Birds and the Beasts

Shag returns to Australia for his fifth exhibit, this time featuring hip birds and Australian architecture. The Birds and the Beasts consists of 32 original paintings in three different exhibits, fifteen of which are 8×10 inches and under $3000. The show additionally features one of his largest and most expensive paintings, Kookaburra’s Roost, measuring 26×72″, which sold for $28,000.

The Birds and the Beasts exhibit is a bit different from previous Shag shows. He has incorporated a more subtle, earthy pallet in some of his paintings, including rich browns, hunter greens, dark yellows, and subdued oranges, creating a warm and softer feel to a still rich and vibrant theme. Additionally, in the exhibit’s display, Shag has playfully highlighted his smaller individual bird paintings by incorporating them into a tree painted on the wall of the gallery, adding uniqueness to the presentation.

One of my favorite paintings from the show is Dickie Bird, featuring classic Shag elements – empty martini glasses, debonairly posed cigarettes, and curiously placed cats. Shag has appropriately placed his subject matter within a 50’s-modern Australian home with the focal point of the theme, a bird, on the finger of a lounging guest. Shag brings the theme of the show into focus through the smaller paintings, each featuring a single unique bird, perched on a branch, often involved in something entirely unexpected, like smoking, drinking and in one particular case, brushing it’s own “teeth.” My favorite of the smaller works is also quite unique and different than the other 15 paintings. Avis Blattae shows a bird, or “avis” (the Latin word for bird) with a bug, or “blattae,” (the Greek word for roach) in its beak along with several more visible in its stomach.


It’s not surprising that Shag held an exhibit that featured birds as the theme of the show. Many of Shag’s past paintings have included stylized Danish Modern-like birds. In fact, there seems to be a larger presence of birds throughout so many of his works than his signature cats. There are far too many paintings to reference, but some well-known ones include Patience, Bird on Phone, Jazz Birds, and The Bird Lovers. He also created several paintings outside of The Birds exhibit that also were solely bird-themed, including Bird Trio1 and Bird Trio2, and four rare India ink drawings from Four Hands: The Drawings of Shag.


Shag has taken his stylized birds beyond the medium of paint, but they were created for his own personal enjoyment.  He made three original and unique sculptures and has them displayed on shelves against a cool rock wall in his Orange County home. If the sculptures look familiar, it’s because he also created three original painted wood fish in the same style for his Voyeur exhibit in 2008.

Birds and the Beasts is Josh Agle’s 41st solo exhibition since 1998 and follows his first-ever major museum exhibition, The Flesh is Willing, at the Laguna Art Museum last Fall.


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