California artist Shag on his retro, Palm Springs-inspired scenes

By LISA KLEIN

Raucous parties, poolside lounging and swinging musicians – all signatures of the colorful work by the artist Shag.

Shag’s pieces often use the Palm Springs, California, desert and its famous midcentury homes as a backdrop for scenes imbued with retro vibes and a sense of humor – their bold, graphic style drawing from his background in commercial illustration.

“Both the lifestyle and architecture of Palm Springs are huge influences on my art,” the artist said.

Shag, aka Josh Agle, works as a painter and illustrator in Southern California, and opened the first store dedicated to his work in Palm Springs in 2009. Another store just opened in 2022 in Las Vegas.

Here, Mr. Agle talks with Luxury Portfolio about all things Shag.

How did you get your start as an artist?

I’ve drawn and painted my entire life.

When I was in college studying business, I realized I preferred art, so I changed my major to fine art and then worked as an illustrator and graphic designer in the record industry in Southern California.

At the same time, I was doing my own art on the side and showing in galleries around L.A. Eventually my art overtook my career in the music business and I quit my day job.

I have to ask: where did the name Shag come from?

The name Shag is a contraction of the last two letters of my first name, Josh, and the first two letters of my last name, Agle. I liked the name “Shag” because it evoked many things: carpet, a dance, etc.

Image courtesy of Shag
You have a very distinctive style. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspirations behind it?

The look of the Shag style was inspired by commercial illustration from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but I updated the color palette based on color theory I learned in college and tried to inject a dose of ironic humor and morbid narrative which wouldn’t have been found in the commercial illustration of the past.

Originally my art was aspirational. I was painting parties I wanted to go to and people I wanted to know.

Eventually, as my career took off, my life began to look like one of my paintings. Now I’m inspired by events and situations from my own life.

You often reference pop culture – movies, television shows, music – in your work. How does it inform your art?

Most of the pop culture references in my art go back directly to my childhood or young adult life. They’re things which had a distinct impact on me and informed my worldview.

As a kid, I stood in line for the very first matinee on the day the first Star Wars movie was released, and that left a huge impression on me. Decades later, I was able to recreate that feeling I had as a kid when I did official Star Wars fine art for Lucasfilm. 

Your pieces are so action-packed. What kinds of stories do they tell?

Most of my paintings are set in the middle of a story arc, at the point where something has already occurred and something else is about to happen.

That’s what makes my art seem action-packed, but I usually don’t answer what came before or what will come after. The viewer has to figure that out or create their own narrative for the piece of art. It’s a technique I’ve used to engage viewers since I first started painting.

Many of the stories in my art are inspired by real-life events or situations, but as an artist, I can embellish and improve those scenes to make a better piece of art.

Image courtesy of Shag
You call Palm Springs your second home and opened your first store there. What is special about it?

Palm Springs has a unique climate that allows it to be sunny and warm when the rest of Southern California is cold or rainy.

Movie stars built second homes here beginning in the 1930s to take advantage of the sun, and Palm Springs came to epitomize a glamorous, leisurely lifestyle.

That faded in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but by the late ‘90s people were hungry to recreate that thing which had made Palm Springs special.

The midcentury homes were still standing, so people began restoring them and trying to make their own lives resemble that of a Hollywood star from the ‘50s or ‘60s. I was part of that group and couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather open my first store.

How is your artwork influenced by Palm Springs?

Both the lifestyle and architecture of Palm Springs are huge influences on my art.

Before it was one of the hip world destinations, I painted Palm Springs as I wished it to be. Over time, as contemporary people rediscovered the city and tried to spend their leisure time recreating the classic midcentury way of life, the city began to look more like my art.

The idealized version of Palm Springs which I painted has been a draw to many people, and when they arrive in the city and see that it is like my art, they undergo a sort of transformation and start looking for real estate so they can live here, too.

For more on Palm Springs’ signature midcentury architecture, read “P.S. we love you” in the fall 2022 issue of Luxury Portfolio magazine.