Art in Review
By KEN JOHNSON
Voyeur: New Paintings by SHAG
Through Dec. 20, 2008
Jonathan LeVine Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Chelsea
A Los Angeles artist who signs his work Shag, Josh Agle has exhibited and sold his work internationally. He has even been the subject of a documentary. But because he is marketed more as an illustrator and designer than as a painter in the Modernist sense of the word, his fame has not extended to the highbrow Chelsea art world.
Mr. Agle’s paintings cannily capture a certain fantasy of the good life in mid-20th-century America — a time before Vietnam, hippies, feminism, race riots and fossil fuel scarcity. On wide panels in neon-candy colors and in a style simulating semiabstract cartoons of the early 1960s, he paints funny, curiously touching suburban pastorals. Modern, mostly glass houses are nestled in bucolic landscapes; suave men in tuxedos and beautiful women in evening dresses and bikinis pose indoors and out in states of perfect composure. The paintings resemble illustrations for Playboy when that publication embodied, for many American men, dreams of ultimate hedonistic fulfillment.
There are amusing stock narratives. In ”The Angry Ex,” a woman in a cat burglar’s outfit lurks outside a sleek house where her ex entertains a few friends. In each of a series of smaller pictures based on the theme of the voyeur, a Peeping Tom ogles a sexy, scantily dressed young woman. The stories, the comical characters and Mr. Agle’s pitch-perfect sense of design make for irresistible meditations on visual, erotic and consumerist desire.