New York could very well be one of the most voyeuristic places on the planet. It’s also a wonderland for exhibitionists. Nothing is private. Our phone conversations, our commutes to work, our interactions with lovers and friends, are all played out on the sidewalks of the city. It’s a community of glass houses, and we’re all throwing stones. However unique New Yorkers are, it seems voyeurism is a universal feeling. Traveling from that little West Coastal town of Los Angeles, painter and voyeur Shag (a.k.a. Josh Agle) brought his latest series, Voyeur, to the Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York City.
Shag, a painter, illustrator and designer, has taken the idea of voyeurism to a new level. By incorporating symbols in his paintings used throughout much of his work (fish, glass houses, swimming pools and luxury) he explores the idea of looking in from the outside.
His pieces, vibrant in color and social context, truly speak for themselves. Below is an e-mail interview from the artist himself. Shag exhibited his work at the Jonathan Levine Gallery through the end of December. Find out more on shag.com.
WC: A lot of your work is created in this a lavish, glamorous social context. Why do you choose that as your setting?
S: I grew up in a hyper-religious Mormon family without much money. Cocktail parties, lavish vacations, impressive architecture, and jet-setting socialites were not part of my life. Things like smoking, drinking and carousing were forbidden. I think much of my art is a reaction to this upbringing, and a celebration of the things which were denied to me.
WC: I like that your paintings are timeless in a sense—retro yet futuristic, the Jetsons meets Breakfast at Tiffany's. Is there a specific intent in that mood or are you going for a certain time period?
S: I am not going for a certain time period in my art. I like to think the paintings could be set 40 years ago, today, or 40 years in the future. People use cell phones and watch plasma televisions in my paintings, and the ironic detachment in many of the characters I paint is specifically contemporary. Aesthetically, I like the forward-looking modernism of the 1950s and 1960s, and have borrowed that look for the paintings, but I don't think of them as being "retro."
WC: What do you think your paintings say about current society? Is there any correlation between over indulgence and spending, the current economy, etc, and the ideas behind your work?
S: My paintings have been a celebration of over-consumption, hedonism and a materialistic world-view, but there is often a little moral (IS THAT WHAT HE MEANS?) in a painting. I'm not saying spending money on oneself or one's surroundings is a bad thing; quite the opposite. Being surrounded by beautiful, expensive things enhances the quality of life, even if it's just a little bit. In regards to the current economy, I have nothing to say, really. I've always been of the opinion that part of the reason this country has been so successful is that people spend money on things they don't need. (YAY CAPITILISM!)
WC: Your latest exhibit for Jonathan Levine is so interesting, I love the voyeuristic aspects! Especially the piece “Little Fish,” is there any explanation behind it?
S: Fish seem to be a re-occurring symbol in this series, but without getting into real specifics, "Little Fish" is an exploration and commentary on colonization, capital, white skin, and wealth. In this painting, the fish represent, among other things, the size of a character's bank account, which is one way of measuring manliness.
WC: Why do you think voyeurism is important enough to encompass an entire series/exhibit?
S: There have always been voyeurs in my paintings, and I've always felt that a viewer of one of my paintings is a voyeur as well, since most of the paintings depict personal situations between characters. This exhibit is just a further exploration and refinement of that idea.
WC: I notice in your bio that you paint in a "large studio with panoramic views of a wooden valley in the hills above LA." This also seems to be the setting of many of your paintings. Was your home/studio selected out of the style of your paintings or was it the other way around?
S: When I started painting, I lived in a little apartment, but it was an apartment that looked like my paintings. As I've gotten more successful, I've been able to recreate the setting and lifestyle represented in my paintings, so it actually goes both ways. I picked this house because it looked like my paintings, but I painted the paintings to represent a lifestyle which I aspired to.
WC: Have you always resided in Los Angeles? Is your work an extension of your Angelino lifestyle?
I've lived in many places: California, Hawaii, the Midwest, Europe. I've been in the LA area for the last 20 years, though. To me, it sums up my American Dream, a house with walls of glass and a city view beyond the swimming pool. I enjoy being able to spend time lounging by the pool with a cocktail, even in mid-November. It's where I get my best ideas.