Josh Agle Dresses Deeper Meaning Inside Whimsical Artwork

Shag Galleries Artist Is an Icon in Palm Springs

Written By: Gabriella Layne
Photographed By: Jane Chouteau Josh Agle

Expert: Josh Agle
Credentials: Painter, Illustrator, Designer of Shag
Fun Fact: His favorite piece, he always says, “Is the one I’m working on now!”

Josh Agle is the heartbeat of the art scene in Southern California. Now universally known by the name Shag, the legendary artist has earned his acclaim for using vintage illustration art forms and aesthetics to convey poignant, contemporary messages about society. But don’t let his edgy attitude and sly sense of humor fool you — he’s a family man at heart, who celebrates a mellow SoCal lifestyle residing in a midcentury home tucked away in a wooded valley. In 2009, Shag opened a self-titled store dedicated to his highly popular works. Today, it continues to be a must-see attraction for tourists and native Californians alike. And at the peak of his career, Agle maintains a passion for his work that makes it clear he doesn’t intend to slow down anytime soon. He sat down with LOCALE Magazine to discuss his career, the inspirations behind his work, and how he merged his artful spirit with an entrepreneurial mindset that pivoted his worldwide appeal.

Q: How did you begin painting/illustrating and what inspired your first piece of artwork?

Josh Agle: I have been painting and drawing since I was a young child, so I don’t have a memory of my first piece of art. I do remember my first piece of “Shag” art, which I painted in 1989 for a band album-cover. I wanted to capture a vintage jazzy cartoon style with a little flat cubism thrown into the mix.

Q: Your art merges retro illustration inspirations with a contemporary edge that speaks so well to modern day society. How did you hone in on defining your signature aesthetic?

JA: In my paintings I try to capture the spirit of commercial illustration from the 1950s and ‘60s and use that to say contemporary things about our culture and society. The art has a dark sense of humor and the occasional macabre detail that wouldn’t have been used in the midcentury decades. The style, which some call retro, is simply the clothing on top of the actual heart of the painting—the themes and narratives behind the pieces of art.

Q: What is the key message that you’d like people to take from your artwork?

JA: I don’t think there’s a single distinct message, but there are recurring themes: the joys and dangers of consumerism, the importance of relationships and friendships to counterbalance the material world, and the importance of play and leisure to depressurize the responsibilities of adulthood.

Q: How does your art and personal style merge to inspire your approach for Shag?

JA: My earliest paintings were aspirational; I was paintings things I wanted to own, places I wanted to be, and situations I wanted to take part in. As my career as an artist progressed, I was able to make my real life look more and more like the paintings. I live in a mid-century house full of the same kind of furniture and art you see in my paintings, complete with a party-friendly swimming pool and hillside view.

Q: What’s the story behind the name ‘Shag’?

JA: Shag is simply the last two letters of my first name, Josh, combined with the first two letters of my last name, Agle. I wanted something memorable to sign on my art; it wasn’t my intention that people would call me Shag, but over time that’s what happened, and now the Shag name is much better known than my original name.

Q: What inspired the initial opening of Shag, and what were some of the challenges you faced along the way?

JA: My business partners in the Shag Store, Jay and MiShell Nailor, established an important gallery in Palm Springs, M Modern Gallery, around 2003. The gallery, which sold the work of many artists, began to see my share of their sales increase over time to the point where most of the gallery’s income came from my art. In 2009, Jay and MiShell proposed we open a gallery dedicated specifically to my work. I said yes, mainly because I thought it would be fun to design an interior! I also told them I wanted it to be called a “store,” and not a “gallery,” because I wanted to create merchandise based on my art, and I didn’t want to exclude people who weren’t specifically interested in buying art from coming into the store.

Since the establishment of the Shag Store, the biggest challenge has been the need to create new art and merchandise continually. I don’t want people coming into the store and seeing the same things over and over, so I spend a lot of time thinking about new products and art.

Q: You’ve enjoyed the opportunity to participate in major collaborations to recreate classic works from your own artful interpretation. What has been your favorite collaboration to date and how is your creative process different when working on these projects?

JA: My favorite collaborations have been the work I’ve done with Disneyland. My own art was inspired by the attraction posters in the park, so when they approached me to work with them in 2003, I was both honored and a bit apprehensive. Since then, the art and products I’ve designed for Disney have become very collectable and sought after, and the Disney connection has enhanced my own career as well.

Q: How have you been able to create such meaningful relationships in your industry to make these collaborations possible?

JA: My collaborations with companies such as Playboy, Paul Frank Industries, Coca-Cola, and the City of Palm Springs all came about because of people I had met who either worked at or represented those companies and were fans of my art.

Q: What are some emerging trends you’re noticing in the art space that you’d consider incorporating into your own works?

JA: I’ve noticed that natural materials and textures are making a comeback: grasscloth wallpaper, sisal flooring, wood paneled walls. I plan on incorporating some of these trends into my work.

Q: What is your favorite piece that you’ve created to date?

JA: I always say my favorite piece is the one I’m working on right now! Once I’ve finished a painting, I feel like I’ve lost some of the emotional connection I had with it while I was creating it, and I transfer that energy to whatever I’m planning next. I’ve never had a problem letting a painting or piece of art leave my studio once it’s completed.

Q: Who is your favorite artist and how have they inspired your work?

JA: I don’t know that I could say I have a favorite artist, but I do have favorite artists from each era. My pre-renaissance favorite would be Hieronymus Bosch. My early modernist favorite is Picasso. My abstract expressionist favorite is Mark Rothko. My favorite artist working right now is probably Jonathan Paul, who does pop-art inspired sculptures, but I could have a new favorite tomorrow.

Q: How has your artwork and overall aesthetic evolved over time, in your opinion?

JA: My art and aesthetic have evolved—the paintings and art have gotten grander and embraced a sense of scale that the early work didn’t have. I’ve abandoned a lot of the kitschier elements I used to paint, like skeletons wearing tuxedos or animals in evening wear to focus more on situations and characters that actually exist.

Q: What advice do you have for artists who’d like to make a full-time career doing what they love to do?

JA: I’d say to paint or create what really makes you happy. Don’t try to follow trends or paint things you think people will buy, but create art that is fulfilling and important to you as an artist. People will sense that you’ve put all your artistic energy into the work and will respond to it accordingly.

First Shag: Josh’s first piece of Shag art was in 1989 for a band album cover.

Coveted Collaborations: Some of Josh’s awesome collaborations include: Disneyland, Playboy, Paul Frank Industries, Coca-Cola, and the City of Palm Springs.

What’s in a Name?

Shag is simply the last two letters of Josh’s first name combined with the first two letters of his last name, Agle.

725 N Palm Canyon Dr
Palm Springs, CA 92262

Josh Agle
Shag, Baby!

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