Interview: SHAG – A Supersonic Swinger Revisited!

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At a recent Cartwheel Art meeting, I mentioned that I’d be spending three days in Joshua Tree for a birthday celebration and would like to pop by Palm Springs to do a short piece about The SHAG Store. When I learned SHAG would be on a three-city Supersonic Swingers Revisited tour in Australia at each of the Outre Gallery locations this month (November 2012), I decided to expand the piece and contact him with some interview questions about the upcoming shows, the shop, his prints and his creative process.

“Casting Agent”

I’ve known Josh Agle since before he was SHAG (a name comprised of the last two letters of his first name and the first two letters of his last name), way back in the mid-80s when I saw his band The Swamp Zombies perform at a friend’s living-room party in Orange County. That friend was Paul Carey, lead singer of a ‘60s style garage band called The Untold Fables whose recordings I released on my then fairly new Dionysus Records label.

“Witchdoctors a Go-Go” album cover by Josh Agle (pre SHAG), 1994

Paul, now a teacher, plays quite a roll in my introduction, friendship, and work with SHAG. After The Untold Fables broke up, Paul and some pals started a group called The Witchdoctors – a ‘60s inspired hybrid of primitive garage meets pre-psychedelic white British r&b/blues. Paul hooked Josh up to do the cover design of their first and only album titled Witchdoctors A Go Go, for release on Dionysus, which was made to look like the Alvin and The Chipmunks Chipmunks a Go-Go children’s album released in the ‘60s.  Josh did a painting and put together some graphics. This pre-dates computer art, so I took all the elements including the painting, layup board with photos, type, Letraset, boarder tape, ruby lith etc and gave them to the local lithographers to comp (compose) for film used to make the plates which print the LP jackets. That was in 1994 though it seems like a hundred years ago actually, and speaking in technical terms, it IS!

Josh did album art for his own band, The Swamp Zombies, in which he played guitar. They were a beatnik-folk combo which had records out on Dr. Dream, a label that Josh worked for in many capacities including graphic artist.  It was around this time he changed his artist name to SHAG and became my main go-to person for design and graphics, album covers, postcards, and advertisements for Dionysus Records. Note that during this time, SHAG did not charge me for this work!

One day I called him up and said:

Josh, I can’t keep taking this work from you without giving you some money, could you please start invoicing me?

A few days later I received an invoice for $175.00 for LP / CD and poster art. SHAG kept all subsequent Dionysus projects at this price until he stopped doing freelance graphic work and became a full-time art star.

The Enchanted Tiki Tones 45 RPM picture sleeve by SHAG, 1996 Dionysus Records

As the ’60s inspired instrumental music experienced a rise in popularity in the ’90s, thanks to the influential Pulp Fiction soundtrack and a reaction against grunge music, The Swamp Zombies added a keyboard player and became the exotic The Tiki Tones with SHAG on lead guitar, while two former Witchdoctors formed the slick, Shadows-inspired Huntington Cads with SHAG on rhythm guitar; both groups released records on Dr. Dream, Dionysus, and other indie labels. And, of course, SHAG created artwork for the entirety of both groups’ LP, CD, and 45 RPM releases.  During the indie-label heyday of the 1990’s, the worldwide distribution of indie releases gave many their first exposure to SHAG’s artwork.

The Wolfmen 45 RPM picture sleeve by SHAG, late ’90s Dionysus Records

SHAG’s first art show took place at the Cacao coffee house in Santa Monica in Spring of 1995 where I purchased a black and white piece–which was originally created for the cover of future Tiki Oasis organizer Otto Von Stroheim’s Tiki News Magazine issue # 2. In 1998, SHAG did his first solo gallery show at La Luz de Jesus; and soon after, his works took off like a mid-century style rocket, thrusting him in to art-stardom.  He put down his guitar to concentrate on his new career as SHAG.

On a side note, Josh as his pals call him, still occasionally does work for his old friends. In the years since he became a swinging bachelor-pad household name, he’s done work for Dionysus, including the cover art for Robert Drasnin’s Voodoo II CD, and the recently released Martini Kings Palm Springs Serenade LP, based on his painting of the same name. He also created a postcard for a DJ night I did at Saints and Sinners called Satanic Swingers Lounge; that image is now the animated splash page for the Dionysus Records site.  Those who’ve known him for years will tell you that other than becoming a suave, international celebrity, SHAG retains the same heart and soul he did when he was working at Dr. Dream records and playing in bands.

Located in the mid-century paradise known as Palm Springs, CA, The SHAG Store opened its doors in March of 2009. Since half of the local M Modern Gallery’s sales were attributed to SHAG’s art, prints, and merchandise, gallerist Jay Naylor came up with the idea for a stand-alone store. The SHAG Store is managed by Monet Leann Orystick who told me that while the store is a destination spot for many, their location in the Uptown Design District of Palm Springs brings foot traffic from local shoppers who are in the process of designing their living spaces. Approximately 40% of those who walk in off the street into the store will purchase something, usually framed prints

This interview with SHAG was conducted via email. It was fun to send these questions to my friend, and a pleasure to receive the answers!

Give us some background on Supersonic Swingers Revisited.

A few months ago, Outre Gallery Press in Australia wanted to reissue the book Supersonic Swingers, which they’d published over ten years ago.  At the same time the book was to be released, I had three gallery shows opening in Australia, so I thought it would be a good time to revisit the theme of international travel and Jet-Setting for my exhibits.  I had intended to include a “Shag map of the world” in the original edition of Supersonic Swingers, but ten years ago I didn’t have the skills or imagination to do it.  When I heard Outre wanted to do a revised and enlarged version of the book, I knew I had to make that map.  The map acts as the centerpiece of the exhibits.

“Original Owner”

Does doing a three-city tour make you feel like you are in a band again?

Hah!  No, doing an “art” tour is much less stressful than doing a band tour.  The art shows are all set up by others, so I just arrive for the opening, and then hang out in the city for a week and have fun.  On band tours, I never had the time or money to really experience the cities we visited.

Will there be different paintings displayed at each show?

Yes, each city will have different paintings, some of which were created for that specific city, because they reference places or pieces of architecture in those cities.

Do you have fans that follow you to each of the stops?

There are people who go to both Sydney and Melbourne to see the shows, but Perth is bit far away for most Australians, who’ve never even visited the west coast of their own country, so I’ve never had fans travel to all three shows.

“Secret Fishing Hole”

Are all your pieces conceived within bodies of work, or do you create random pieces outside of your shows?

All the pieces I paint are either conceived as part of a thematic show, or are for group shows which have themes as well.  It’s rare that I do a one-off painting that is not dictated by some sort of theme or artistic direction.  When I a faced with painting something like that, unrelated to anything, I often struggle a little bit to come up with something.

Are each one of your paintings made available as a print?

No, I’d say about one quarter of my paintings end up as prints.  I try to pick the “wow” paintings, the ones in an exhibit that people seem to really like, when I’m considering what to make into a print.

“Birdsong Dim Sum”

Does the thought that many of your creations become a serigraph change the way you approach each piece or do you just “paint a painting”?

I never think about how a painting will be turned into a silk screen print when I’m making it.  Those considerations come later, when I have to figure out how to turn a painting in which I might have used 50 or 60 colors into a serigraph that only uses 15 or 20 colors.

Do you oversee the process of converting a painting to a set of screens?

I do all of the conversions myself, because I don’t like the way anyone else does it.  The process involves scanning a painting into a computer, and redrawing every object and shape in the painting by hand with a computer mouse. I assign colors to those shapes and create a computer file which is used to make clear film positives, one for each color in the print.  Those pieces of film are used to burn the image into the screens themselves.  Then the screens are filled with ink, and hand squeegeed to get the ink onto the paper.  It’s a long, labor intensive process, and digital prints like giclées would be much simpler, but I like the traditional look and method of silk screen printing.

How involved are you in the SHAG store? Do you conceive your own merchandise?

I’m not involved in the day to day operations of the store, like paying rent, payroll, taxes, or scheduling employees, but I’m involved in conceiving and designing all the merchandise that is exclusive to the store.  I also designed the store facilities and signage, and continue to create all the graphics and print material for the store.

Did you get any flack for your “My First Cocktail” lunchbox? I thought it was genius!!!

I heard from a parent whose child was sent home for school for carrying it, but the parent just thought it was just a funny story, and didn’t seem bothered by it.  I think most people know that it’s tongue in cheek, and that I don’t really think seven year-olds should be learning how to mix and drink cocktails.

The Inscrutable Mystery Guide added another dimension to your last Australian show(s)–what inspired the idea for the guide? How was the reaction of your fans?

The Inscrutable Mystery Guide was created during a weird, introspective period of my life.  I decided to share some of my “deeper” thoughts and secrets in the form of a book, but it would only be available to people who bought a painting in the show.  Each of the 100 small paintings in the show had a short paragraph in the book, and a bit of insight or secret knowledge was divulged about that painting.  I controlled the books tightly, and wouldn’t let anyone even look at it unless they had bought a painting.  The books had some very personal and even somewhat embarrassing information, and I only wanted 100 of them to be printed, d accompanied by an original painting.  Thus, the buyers of a painting became members of a secret society of 100 people, and were given a dose of arcane knowledge and insight that no one else had.  I sometimes come across people who have an Inscrutable Mystery Guide book and painting, and they do feel special.

Give the Cartwheel Art readers a peek at the structure of your work day: What time to you get up, how long do you paint? Do you take regular brakes to stretch, eat, answer emails?

My usual work day consists of me waking up at 3:30 am and looking at the ceiling. I get my best creative ideas and artistic solutions at that time.  I fall asleep again, and get up really early, because that’s when I have the most creative energy. I usually rise at 6am, and paint most of the morning, until about noon.  After noon, I focus more on things that I can do at my computer, like designing merchandise or converting a painting into a print.  In the late afternoon, I start the humdrum part of my life as an artist, answering e-mail, looking at contracts, returning phone calls, talking to my printer or my agent.  If I’m not going out with friends, or doing something with my kids or wife, I try to take a micro-nap, a 15 minute snooze which rejuvenates me and refocuses my eyes so I can start painting again. I paint from the early evening into the night, and depending on my mood, I might stop at 7pm or 11pm.  After I stop painting, I have a couple cocktails and chill out.  I go to bed after midnight, and resume the process.  That describes a “typical” work day, but in reality, every day is varied and full of other activities.

SHAG and Lee Joseph at “Mondo Lounge,” Las Vegas, 2010

“Yes, I Dated Picasso”

The Martini Kings “Palm Springs Serenade” LP cover by SHAG, Dionysus Records 2012

Images courtesy of: SHAG, Dionysus Records, Lee Joseph

2 Comments

  1. John Matheson
    November 18, 2012

    Really nice article. I enjoyed it much. I met Shag at the Hukilau two years ago and consider him to be one of the giants who keep this Polynesian-Pop movement thriving. I am a TIKI carver and getting an insight to an artist of his magnitude is an enriching inspiration. Again, great article, and thanks to all for doing and posting.

    ~johnpingpong

    Reply
  2. The Gosh! Authority 12/03/13 » Gosh! London – the Culture of Comics
    March 12, 2013

    […] from ten years ago and ties into a three-gallery tour SHAG did in Australia. He talks about it in this interview and there are preview pictures and […]

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