Josh Aglea.k.a. Shagis OCs hippest painter, and he has the cult to prove it

"The very first thing was the Zippo lighters," he says, running through the mental catalog. "The guy there loved the work, and at the time, I wasn't sure anybody would ever want to buy a Shag lighter. But he didn't care; he said he just liked the stuff. And when I got my first $3,000 royalty check from lighters, I was like, '$3,000?! And I didn't even have to work!' So the idea of royalty payments became really attractive."

He collaborated with Paul Frank to produce purses, handbags, wallets, barstools and CD cases, which are still among Agle's most sought-after items. He admits to have gone a little crazy with the licensing binge, though, and these days is more into the idea of limited-edition Shag shwag.

There's no hint that he's concerned about the purity of his craft or the holiness of his inspiration. "I always thought I would merchandise," he says frankly. "I wouldn't draw the line and say I'm a fine artist, that it would cheapen my work if I were to put it on a T-shirt or something. So if it's appropriate, I don't see why not."

Agle drew the line at just one thing: the bobblehead dolls. "The company that makes them wanted to do a doll, but not a tiki or anything based on my art—one of me. And I couldn't; I just said no. A Josh Agle bobblehead doll would be too far into the realm of novelty. The fact that they even wanted to do it was unsettling."

Illustration by Shag

Agle insists he's not becoming a celebrity, but just now his work is making that unavoidable. This past spring, Agle reached his widest audience yet when the Showtime cable network animated his work to plug Night Out, the Wednesday lineup of gay and lesbian programming airing on their affiliate, Sho Too. It was great—except Agle says Showtime didn't actually have his permission. Still, exposure is exposure, and there are bound to be more people who find out about Shag from the Showtime spots. People who'll wait in lines a lot deeper than 50 bodies to have Josh Agle graffiti his alter-art-ego on something.

"People seem to like my work, which I'm very happy about," he says. "When I first started painting, I thought, well, there might be 10 people out there who'd like these. And it seems like there's a lot more."

"Sophisticated Misfits: 15 Years of Shag" at the Brea Gallery, 1 Civic Center Circle, Brea, (714) 990-7730. Opens Aug. 30 with a reception, book signing and music from the Dynotones, 7-9 p.m. Exhibit runs through Oct. 4.

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