By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The paintings are also highly musical works. In a lot of his work, either dancing, guitar playing, record spinning or bongo banging is going on, so vibrant you can almost hear the tunes. If Juan Garcia Esquivel or Martin Denny had been painters, they probably would have come up with work close to Agle's. "I assume there's music playing in almost every piece," Agle says.
Anaheim composer Hans Karl has picked up on that, going so far as to put out his own instrumental CD, Shagxotica! New Music Inspired by the Paintings of Shag. Karl's parents were into Polynesian culture when he was growing up in the '60s—tropical trees in the back yard, torches around the swimming pool, stacks of Martin Denny vinyl everywhere—so coming across Shag's work last year took him back.
The idea for the album, Karl says, was to create a soundtrack for 15 different Shag paintings, capturing what he thinks would be the music playing if the paintings had speakers attached to their frames—like Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in Orange County. Each track is named after the Shag work that inspired it: The Ghost of Augie Colon, The Three Enablers, The Torrid Holiday, The Uninvited Guests and so on. (The paintings are reproduced in the CD booklet.)
"There's this notion of 'ancient-future' or even 'retro-future' in his paintings," Karl says. "So I tried to infuse the music that way, like it could play in a cool lounge bar circa 1963 or 2063."
The Man Who Would Become Shag almost became an accountant.
That was Agle's major at Cal State Long Beach for a couple of years, until he realized he hated it. "It was easy, and I got good grades, but if I had stuck with it, I knew my life would be miserable," he says. "The thing that actually made me change was this flier I saw for the accounting students softball league. I thought, 'God, who would want to play softball with an accountant?' I switched my major to art on the spot. Even if I was completely poor my whole life, at least I'd be doing something I liked."
Agle sold art on the side to help pay for school, and he eventually got the Doctor Dream gig (it helped that the Swamp Zombies were on the label). "Doctor Dream would call me up when other bands came in with crappy ideas for art work, so I'd redo it for them." There, he designed album covers for such bands as the Cadillac Tramps. When people started pestering him for originals, he complied.
What Agle painted first were pictures with tikis—forests of them, just when exotica/lounge/surf culture was coming back in vogue. "Most people paint what appeals to them," he says. "Picasso always painted bullfights, things that were directly related to his life. And me? I was really into tikis. I hate the word 'retro,' but the whole look of the '50s and '60s appealed to me. I collected a lot of the furniture, books and magazines of that time, so it just informed what I was doing."
Agle says his tiki fetish flourished during 1980s excursions with friends to old LA bars. "We'd go to these Polynesian places, and if you ordered a drink, they'd serve it in a tiki mug, and you could either buy the mug or it'd be included in the price—or you could just stick it someplace and walk out with it. So we started collecting these as little souvenirs of our fun evenings out. Then I noticed you could get them in thrift stores and flea markets."
Tikis became something of a Shag trademark, so much so that he still often gets branded as "the tiki artist." "There was a time when I did a lot of tiki stuff, and I still occasionally do," he admits, "but the majority of my work doesn't have tikis in it."
But the tikis got the attention of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, which was opening a tiki/Rat Pack-styled bar there called the Venus Lounge. "How could I turn down the Las Vegas Strip?" Agle asks. "The way they described it was right up my alley."
Agle got to design the bar's cocktail napkins, wall murals, menus, ashtrays, signage, swizzle sticks, matchbooks and logo. He was too successful. Soon, Shag-signed barware began vanishing from the lounge—and reappearing on eBay. "I had some friends who went a few months ago, and they told me they were down to only three menus, and that the waitresses have to stand there while you look at them!"
A few weeks ago, the lounge told Agle that they'll have to redecorate the room, using a less-appealing motif. You know you've arrived when people start stealing your stuff.
"It's weird because it puts this pressure on me, like I'd better keep doing good art people like, so that somebody who spent $16 on a Shag napkin off eBay will feel they got their money's worth. It's a strange fate."
What all those thieves—tourists, we'd guess—probably don't know is that there's tons of Shag stuff they could buy in boutiques around town and on his website (www.shag-art.com). Agle has merchandised Shag to a degree that would do Keith Haring proud—Shag mouse pads, Shag blank checks, Shag books, Shag clothes, Shag soap.