It’s a seductive scene we all want to live in: glamorous, stylish people having a fun time with martinis in hand.
Artist, painter, and illustrator Josh Agle, better known as Shag, has created this world — a strong visually arresting brand depicting the fun mid-mod lifestyle in full color.
Agle’s Southern California roots have clearly influenced his subject matter. After switching his major from accounting to fine art at California State University, Long Beach, Agle had early success designing album covers and magazine illustrations for Forbes, Time, and Entertainment Weekly.
He adopted the professional name Shag using the last two letters of his first name and the first two letters of his last name. Shag’s work was soon noticed by gallery owners and art dealers, which opened the door to exhibitions where his paintings and prints routinely sold out. These early shows were a sign of things to come. Soon the Walt Disney Company and others came calling.
During his flourishing career, Shag has developed a distinctive aesthetic and has created countless iconic works. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Japan, and Australia. A prolific artist that produces several new limited edition prints each year, Agle’s trajectory took a quantum leap when he teamed up with Jay Naillor and wife MiShell Modern. This partnership has grown the Shag brand exponentially and has created an international following of his work.
Shortly after the Palm Springs couple met Agle in 2003, they opened M Modern Gallery and featured Shag paintings and limited edition prints. That led to the opening in 2010 of The Shag Store in a bright space located in the Uptown Design District of Palm Springs. In addition to original art, limited edition prints, and books, The Shag Store features a complete line of Shag-branded merchandise. A second retail location in West Hollywood opened in 2015.
Agle pulled back the curtain on his Shag persona with Palm Springs Life.
You followed in the footsteps of your grandfather, who was an illustrator, but you initially studied accounting when you first went to Cal State Long Beach. What gave you the inspiration to switch to art?
I was sitting in a business class when a group of students came in to plug the “Accounting Students Softball League.” I thought to myself, “Who would want to play softball with a bunch of accounting students? They’re so boring.” I realized that I had much more in common with artistic people and didn’t want to spend my life in a corporate environment, so I changed my major that week. I had already been paying my way through college by doing freelance illustration and graphic design, so it didn’t seem like a big stretch that I might be able to make a living, however meager, as an artist.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LYDIA KREMER
Josh Agle (left), AKA Shag, with collector Toby Anderson.
Your art has such a strong and distinctive aesthetic. Was your style a gradual evolution over time or did that design style come quickly?
When I was a graphic designer and illustrator, I worked in many artistic styles – I employed whatever the client wanted or what I thought the project needed. Occasionally I’d use something similar to the Shag style, which was based on jazz album covers, magazine illustrations, and experimental animation from the 1950s and ’60s. That style really appealed to me, and at the time in the late ’80s and early ’90s, no one was doing anything that even looked remotely similar.
You are such a prolific artist with a family. How much time do you spend making art?
I’m a workaholic who loves what he does, so I spend a lot of time on my art. My kids are old enough to be self-sufficient, so I don’t feel guilty spending 10 or 12 hours in a day doing what I’m most passionate about, which is making art.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
When I started making my own art, I had been collecting vintage furniture, magazines, and records from the 1950s and ‘’60s for more than 10 years, and also had an obsession with midcentury cocktail culture, especially tiki bars, so I just painted what I was passionate about and surrounded by. Initially my paintings were aspirational — I was painting things I wanted to own, places I wanted to be, and people I wanted to know.
Now I draw inspiration from real life. Spending a lot of time in Palm Springs and L.A. puts me in situations that mimic something that might happen in one of my paintings. I keep notes about people I meet, parties I go to, or environments I find myself in, and that gives me a lot of material to inspire new work.
You have a really passionate fan base. Has that surprised you?
When I had my very first art show, I didn’t think anyone would buy my paintings, so I painted things I wanted to hang in my own apartment. I was given one wall in a tiny coffee house on Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A. to display my work, and I was able to make five paintings, all of which I was sure I would be bringing home at the end of the show.
Shag’s store in the Uptown Design Disrict of Palm Springs.
The five paintings sold the night the show opened, and it began to dawn on me that other people might like the same things I did. That was 23 years ago, and it continues to surprise and delight me that people are still so keen on the work I create.
How did your partnership with Jay Nailor and his wife MiShell come about, and what impact has it had on your work?
I met Jay and MiShell in 2003 at the second annual Palm Springs Modernism Show. I had created a print edition as a fundraiser for the Palm Springs Modern Committee, a group that was trying to preserve and focus attention on the midcentury architecture of the Coachella Valley. I worked with Jay and MiShell at the event and they told me they had been thinking of opening an art gallery in Palm Springs. I told them I would exhibit at their very first show if they opened a gallery. A few months later, they opened M Modern Gallery on Palm Canyon Drive with an exhibition of my work.
Partnering with Jay and MiShell has been a huge help to my career as an artist. They’ve been involved in Palm Springs preservation for decades, and they were part of the group that started Modernism Week in 2006, so their connections to the area have been invaluable. I try to focus on making good art, but Jay thinks big: opening the first Shag Store in Palm Springs, opening the second store on Melrose Avenue in L.A., exhibiting at Comic Con, and partnering with other brands and businesses have all come about because he had the idea and made them happen.
Jay Nailor and his wife MiShell.
Can you give us a clue on what you’re planning next?
We have just partnered with the Columbia Space Center to do a series of art pieces celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moonwalk. These will debut at Comic Con this summer, and will be used as a fundraiser for the Space Center.
The Shag Store, 745 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 760-322-3400; shag.com.