Perhaps the mid-twentieth century wasn’t a non-stop rainbow orgy of Beatnik lounges, hipster soirees, Beatles concerts, Tiki bars, surfing expeditions, and rumbles between Adam West’s Batman and Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. Perhaps. I really don’t want to think about the dreary alternative, though. I surmise Shag doesn’t either.
For over twenty years, the pop artist has fetishized the sixties and seventies in enchanting fashion, creating a wild retro realm that you just want to disappear into like Alice sinking into the looking glass. It’s a world in which every cat is super cool, every chick is ultra groovy, every color is eye-poppingly brilliant, and every environment is de-luxe. You may have seen his work in commercial settings, as it has appeared in numerous adverts and on the covers of quite a few CD collections. Nevertheless, there’s always seriousness artistry behind the method. More surprisingly, nightmarish blasts sometimes shatter the retro dreaminess of Shag’s world. He has depicted scenes of murder, torture, and Hieronymus Bosch-inspired depravity in his signature, crowd-pleasing style. He has even come clean about how his own dark times inspired some of these deviations in his work.
Shag’s light and dark, artistic and commercial work is all on glorious display in a gorgeous new collection titled Shag: The Collected Works. This book levels Shag’s wide playing field, encompassing his acrylic paintings as well as the things featuring his artwork you aren’t likely to see hanging in any museum: the CD covers, the ottomans, the coasters, the pillows, the Hawaiian shirts, the watches, the drinking glasses. It’s all marvy. So is his taste in pop culture as he gives The Beatles, The Ramones, The Velvets, the Universal Monsters, The Twilight Zone, The Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Batman, and Disneyland the Shag treatment.