6/30/11 – Interview with the Artist SHAG (Includes Photos at Walt Disney World Signings)

Back in January, we had barely stepped off the Disney Dream (for the media cruise) when we read that one of our favorite artists was to be signing his new 40th Anniversary Walt Disney World prints at the Magic Kingdom.

Shag (the groovy contraction of artist Josh Agle’s last two letters of his first name and first two letters of his last) was in town for his first-ever Walt Disney World signing. Shag is well known at Disneyland, with nearly a decade of designing merchandise for events (Disneyland 50th, Enchanted Tiki Room 40th, Haunted Mansion 40th and more). Walt Disney World will sometimes get leftover Disneyland Shag merchandise, but we've never had original Shag artwork for our parks here! I hope this is the just the beginning – there are quite a few attractions I'd love to see Shag put his unique spin on (Tower of Terror is one). Shag also created artwork for the Disney Cruise Line this year.

While Shag is familiar at Disneyland, most of his artwork isn't Disney related.  We even stumbled upon his gallery (which opened last year) while driving through Palm Springs in September.  It has a fun mix of Disney and non-Disney merchandise, and I picked up some cool tiki note paper (I love functional art!)

Agle was back last week to debut his Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary line of merchandise at the Magic Kingdom and Downtown Disney. The latter was the more crowded of the two signings, as guests without Disney passes were able to meet him. The merchandise items include his original artwork (1 at $20,000.00), LE Canvas Giclee's (95 at $425.00 each), the Deluxe Print ($35.00) as well as an Aloha Shirt ($74.00), and more. He may be back at Walt Disney World each year, keep watching Walt Disney World on Twitter for all park information! 

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I wanted to introduce my readers to Josh Agle/Shag, and he generously allowed for a written interview. For those who already are familiar with Shag (and most of our friends own Shag Aloha shirts and more), I know you'll enjoy reading his answers as much as I did. Josh Agle is as nice as he is talented!  After the interview, I share more photos from his latest Walt Disney World visit, as well as a few pictures I took at his Palm Springs Gallery. I highly suggest a visit there if you are in the Palm Springs area!

MS: When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist, and how did you develop the style you are famous for?

JA: My grandfather was a successful commercial artist in LA in the 1930s and '40s (he even worked with Walt Disney on WWII Military Art), soI knew I wanted to be an artist from young childhood.  The "Shag" style was based on commercial art from the '50s and '60s – magazine ads, animated TV commercials, short films, record covers – I just took the style and tried to say something new and different with it.
MS: During your Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary artwork signings, you wore two different tiki necklaces. You mentioned the second one was from Disneyland, purchased many years ago. When was your first Disneyland visit, and did it inspire your art?  (the Tiki necklace looked like it came from the same material as a Randotti souvenir item we have from Disney in the the 70's).

JA: My first memory of Disneyland was a visit when I was 4 or 5 years old.  I spent my childhood in Hawaii, and we made a yearly visit to California each summer.  I got one of those Donald Duck hats with a large rubber bill that squeaked when it was squeezed.  When I rode the spinning rocket ride, my hat flew off; I almost jumped out of the rocket to catch it. I was so disappointed and was crying when the ride stopped.  A man who was waiting in line walked up to me and handed me the hat. It affirmed both my faith in humanity and what a special place Disneyland was.

I bought the large white tiki necklace I was wearing from Disneyland when I was in my teens; they sold them at a hut outside the Jungle Cruise, along with large rubber snakes and ceramic shrunken heads.  

I think the necklaces, shrunken heads, and small tiki statues were all made by the same company.  Years later, after Disneyland stopped selling the necklaces and statues, I was at an antique mall in Pomona, California.  One space was full of ceramic tikis, wall hangings, shrunken heads and other souvenirs I'd seen at
Disneyland. The woman running the mall told me the booth was rented by the man who had made the items for Disney years earlier.  I bought one of each of the things I didn't already have (some small tiki statues and wall native-mask wall hangings) and was really stoked that I had found the place.  

Later, when I got home, I realized Christmas was only two weeks away, and the things in the booth would make great gifts for my friends.  I drove out to Pomona the next week to stock up.  When I got to the mall, the booth was vacant.  I rushed over to the woman who ran the antique mall.

"What happened to the things in that booth!!?"  I asked.

"Oh, honey, he closed up shop a couple days ago," she replied.

"Can you give me his name or phone number?  I want to buy more of his stuff!"  I

"Oh, I don't have that," she said.  "He didn't leave any forwarding information."

I was crestfallen. Years later, I realize that she did have that information and
didn't want to give it to me.  But I still have the things I bought hanging in my studio.

(Note: We figured out that the items were from Randotti)

MS: How did your relationship with Disney come about?

JA: Around the year 1999, I started hearing from people who worked at Disney that the company was interested in working with me.  "Have them give me a call!" I'd always say. Finally in 2001 I got a call from the Director of Artist Collectibles who told me that the 40th Anniversary of the Enchanted Tiki Room was coming in 2002, and wondering if I'd like to create some art and merchandise for the anniversary.  "What took you so long to call!!?" I thought.  I created four pieces of art and designed over a dozen pieces of merchandise.  The day the prints and merchandise were released, people started lining up in front of Disneyland at 3:00 am.  Disney was taken by surprise at the response, and since then, they've been great about approaching me with projects they think I might be interested in.
MS: You've had a number of artwork signings at Disneyland over the last decade what was your experience like with your first Walt Disney World signings?

JA: While the Disney World signings weren't quite the mob scenes that some of the Disneyland signings have been, I was pleasantly surprised by the response.  Also, the people were really friendly (maybe because of that famous Southern hospitality and charm), and didn't seem at all bothered that they had to wait in a long line to get things signed.

MS: When was your first visit to Walt Disney World?

JA: I first visited Walt Disney World in 1989, when I was playing guitar in a touring band and we made a swing through Florida.  We couldn't afford to stay in an actual Disney resort hotel – we stayed in a cheap motel in Orlando. I remember riding the monorail past the Polynesian Resort and envying the rich people who were able to spend their vacation in tropical splendor!

MS: You have some wonderful books that showcase your artwork, do you have any more in the works?  And will we see a book eventually compiling your growing Disney body of work?

JA: I am working on two books right  now – one a book about my art depicting Palm Springs, California, and the other a compendium of the prints I've released since 2005.  I'd love to do a Disney book!  I'm waiting until I do a couple more collaborations with Disney so there's plenty of stuff to put in the book.

MS: You have art shows, published books, and you even created a stage show! Are there any other mediums you've yet to conquer?

JA: I'd like to design home furnishings that would make one's house look like one of my paintings!  At some point, I'd like to create an animated film, but I keep turning down requests, thinking, "maybe in a couple years."

MS: Your Palm Springs Gallery recently had an exhibition called "The Aloha Shirts of Shag".  Most of our friends own at least one of your Hawaiian styles (we have 2) – how did you get into designing shirts?

JA: I started designing aloha shirts when a company called Toes on the Nose contacted me to ask if they could use my art on a shirt in the year 2001.  I liked the challenge of taking art and arranging it in such a way that it repeated and made a pleasing design. Since then, I've designed at least one shirt for every Disney project I've worked on.  My dream is to design one of the Pixar shirts – they create a special shirt for employees and people involved with each film they release.  John Lasseter, the head of Pixar, is a big collector of aloha shirts; he's stopped people on the street wearing shirts I designed to ask about them.  I'm just waiting for a call…

MS: What is your own personal favorite painting from your collection?

JA: I always say my favorite painting is the one I'm working on right now.  It's true!  Once it's completed, I'm just not as engaged with it.  I have no trouble letting finished paintings leave my studio.

MS: What is the decor of your art studio like?

JA: It's a large room off of my midcentury house – it has a high peaked ceiling and a view of the valley below. The walls are covered with art by friends of mine, as well as tropical masks and large hanging tikis.  I have a round orange shag rug and black leather "supervillian's chair" that I use for thinking.

MS: Your favorite Tiki bar?

JA: The Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale – the world's largest!
MS: Your favorite martini?

JA: Well, I like a dry gin martini, but I prefer a Rob Roy or a Manhattan.

MS: What would be your dream vacation?

JA: I'd like to take a Disney Cruise ship to Easter Island with my wife and kids!  If
Disney ever goes there, I'll be the first on board!

Thank you so much!  We hope to eventually see more Walt Disney World Shag offerings, I'd be especially interested in seeing your take on Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The next page includes photos!