Since the mid-1990s, Josh Agle has been best known for paintings that depict mid-20th century styled cocktail parties in intense colors. But the artist known as Shag has shifted gears for his latest show at Culver City's Corey Helford Gallery. Though still distinctively Shag, “Autumn's Come Undone” makes use of a comparatively subdued color palette and an overall darker imagery. You can check out the pieces on Corey Helford's website.
Recently, photographer Shannon Cottrell and I headed down to Orange County to visit Agle at Shag HQ.
“I felt like for the past few years I've sort of been doing the same thing over and over. I knew that people liked it,” says Agle about the motivation behind his latest work. “I knew that those paintings could sell and that I could make a good living, but after a while, it kind of catches up with you and you realize that you didn't become an artist to be like a factory worker, painting the same thing over and over. A little over a year ago, I started thinking and asking myself the same questions that I had asked originally when I began painting, which is what kind of art would I like to own myself. If I owned a painting, what would I want the artist to be talking about and saying in that painting. That's what started this slight change in direction.”
The answer to Agle's artistic question was simple, “I would like to see a painting that I could look at for hours and never be able to figure it out, where the artist was saying things about his or her personal life, but doing it in an artistic way that might apply to my own life.”
He adds, “There's still a spirit of hedonism in the work, but there are a lot of darker things going on. There were always the dark elements in my work, but not as dark as this. “
“One of the things I learned in art school was color theory,” says Agle, who studied at Cal State Long Beach. “I actually remember it from art school and used that in every painting I do. You learn a lot of stuff in art school that you're never going to use again, but that's the thing I learned that I use the most.”
He continues, “When I first started painting, I used to apply shapes on the color wheel and that would determine what the colors for the painting were, a complementary color and then two colors that were close to each other but sort of opposite on the lower end of the color wheel, you have this tall triangle and if you use those colors, you're going to get a painting that looks a certain way. I used to build these little formulas on the color wheel and that's how I would come up with the colors. Now, I've kind of done it enough where I know what colors look good next to each other.”
“I started collecting tikis in about 1984,” Agle explains. “Soon after I started drinking, a couple friends and I would find the old tiki bars in LA and go to those. If you paid an extra $5, you got to keep the little ceramic mug that the drink came in. We would always get the mug and that would be our little souvenir for the evening. We started amassing these collections of mugs from where we had been. Then I started noticing that they have these mugs in thrift stores too and other tiki things and my friends started noticing the same thing at the same time, so it became this race to see who could get the best collection of tiki stuff. “
“At the time, I thought that we were the only three people interested in that stuff,” he continues. “Nobody else seemed to find it interesting or see any sort of worth in it. It was only about eight or nine years later that I started meeting other people that were into the tiki thing as well and realizing that there are a lot of people who are into this stuff. “
Agle found this Japanese advertisement figure in Japan. “You stick him in the window and hang watches from his arm.
“I don't know what that says, but this says C-Chan,” he says, pointing to the last half of the writing at the base of the figure. “C being his name and chan meaning like buddy or pal. It was for Citizen Watches. Like ' C-Buddy.' I like how the whites of his eyes are black. I don't know why they did that, but it's cool. “
“I worked as a commercial artist for about ten years in the music industry and people would ask me, 'When are you going to do your own paintings?'” says Agle of his transformation into Shag. “That wasn't really my intention. Finally a friend of mine said, 'I'm going to do an art show, so you have to do some paintings.' It was at this little coffee house in Santa Monica called Cacao, about the size of a bedroom, and I got one wall, which was enough to do five paintings. I sat down and asked those questions that I was talking about earlier, 'What do I want the artist to say?' I did five paintings, the first five Shag paintings, and I priced them at $200 or $300 a piece, because I couldn't picture paying more than $300 for a piece of art ever, and they all sold. That was the beginning of the Shag thing.”
Agle says that he's trying to relearn some chords for the ukulele. The guitar shown here is a Domino.”It's patterned after the Vox, a British '60s guitar. That one is from the '60s too, but it's like a cheap knock-off. I paid $45 for that in the '80s. It sounds rad.”
Agle's beginnings as a working artist are rooted in his musical background. “I was playing in bands and you start doing your band's artwork and then you have friends in bands who need artwork,” he says. “Pretty much, the first commercial art I did was band stuff and it built from that, where I started getting hired freelance from record labels based on work I had done before. At points I worked at record labels in art departments and freelanced on the side. “
The three pieces by illustrator/animator Gene Deitch seen here stem from a 1940s jazz magazine and have been influential on the Shag style. “When I first saw them years ago, I thought that I love that kind of, at the time I didn't know what it was, but it was simplified, flattened, stylized,” says Agle. “I just fell in love with it and wanted to do something similar with my own art.”
“I ran out of wall space,” says Agle of his ample art collection. “I have this thing where if I see art I like, I buy it to support other artists.”
Agle has worked on several Shag-Disneyland collaborations in recent years. This piece is a gift that stems from when he worked on an anniversary line of Tiki Room merchandise.