The SHAG Interview


Hell meets the Playboy Mansion, circa 1966 – a brief chat with Shag!
by Thom Trainor (The Netherworld Network)

The last decade-and-a-half has witnessed a real renaissance in the world of contemporary pop art. Bored with the stagnant pool of fine art that had developed in galleries and private collections, a new breed of artist plunged headlong into the murky depths and turned a small ripple into a churning whirlpool of exciting, innovative imagery spawned by nostalgia and pop culture. Soon, traditional 2D works evolved into an aesthetic…inspiring fans to rethink just what it was that they considered “fine art” and embrace this diverse and intriguing community of creators through paintings, prints, designer toys, apparel and home decor. Often labeled urban art, lowbrow, pop surreal, and any other number of monikers, contemporary pop art is everything but definable.

Leading this charge was Shag. Blending popular iconic themes with a slightly avant garde cast of characters and design elements, Shag has become synonymous with modern retro cool..a gentleman’s gentleman who invites us into a past that never existed outside of our own minds, where lovely lasses in stylish cocktail dresses and cat-rimmed glasses mix it up with dapper werewolves and fez-wearing skeletons.

The Netherworld Network was extremely fortunate in stealing a few moments of Shag’s time in order to ask a few questions and catch up with this modern master…

You recently created some amazing work for Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride – how did this come about? Was this one of those dream-come-true projects – were you a longtime fan of the ride?
I’ve worked with Disneyland for about ten years; they’ve sort of given me carte blanche to pick and choose projects I find interesting. Most of what I do revolves around anniversaries of rides, or attractions at the theme parks. In fact, I’ve told Disney I won’t paint, reinterpret, or represent any of their characters like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck; I’m only interested in the theme park attractions. And my three favorite attractions, going back to my youth, were the Enchanted Tiki Room, The Haunted Mansion, and the Pirates of the Caribbean. It was natural that I would take the opportunity to do art for the Haunted Mansion when I found out its 40th Anniversary was approaching.

Will we be seeing any new Haunted Mansion pieces or merchandise, with the announcement of the new Gullermo del Toro-directed film?

No, part of my contracts with Disneyland states that they can only display and sell my art and merchandise for a limited time, and can only sell it in the theme parks. I don’t want it competing with the galleries that display and sell my art outside the Magic Kingdom. By the time that movie comes out, the stuff I created will be long gone. I am pleased to hear that del Toro is doing a Haunted Mansion movie – anything to make me forget about that Eddie Murphy travesty that came out a few years ago.

Are you a fan of dark rides or funhouses in general? Do you celebrate the Halloween season with a visit to the local haunted houses? If so, do you have any favorites you recommend?

I do like funhouses and dark rides, especially the cheesy ones at state fairs. At the Balboa Fun Zone, a small boardwalk amusement park near where I live, there used to be an attraction called Scary Dark Ride. It was definitely dark, but it wasn’t very scary. My kids are too young to appreciate haunted houses (they just get freaked out and have a bad time) but when they’re older, I’ll definitely seek out some good local haunted houses.

Your work often features many darker denizens – devils, wolfmen, skeletal gents – but in a delightfully relaxed manner, typically frolicking with lovely ladies or enjoying a cocktail. Do these characters represent any particular aspect of yourself, or are they simply favorite icons drawn from your own interests?

Those are iconic things from my childhood – I loved monsters when I was a kid. As an artist, you paint what you love, so it makes sense. At the same time, the world in my paintings is pretty hedonistic and most of the characters that populate my world are cool customers, so the monsters and devils tend to be pretty relaxed, too.

During Atlanta’s Dragon*Con 2010 event, you released a limited print set of Crypto-hominids. What is it about these shaggy brutes that inspired this release? Are you a believer in the existence of man-apes – ever spied a Bigfoot in the wild (or having a wild time among the civilized)?

I’m a big skeptic when it comes to cryptozoological species, but I still think it’s fun to research them and listen to what true believers have to say about them. The Crypto-Hominid print set was inspired by those 18th and 19th century artist-naturalists like J. J. Audubon – I even included a spec sheet with descriptions of the beasts in their natural habitat. Like the monsters I paint, these bigfoots and sasquatches were kept pretty mellow.

Can you recall your favorite Halloween costume(s) growing up? Were you a store-bought kind of trick-or-treater or did your creative side push you toward the homegrown? Will we ever see a line of Ben Cooper-style Shag costumes (preferably for adults)?

My favorite costume was something I didn’t wear myself, but I made it for my younger brother around 1976. It was a recreation of Gene Simmons’ costume from the Kiss Destroyer album cover, the one with the scaly dragon-head boots. I spent months working on that thing. I was 13 or 14 at the time, and had the free time to cut out dragon scales and put metal studs into black vinyl for hours on end. The finished costume looked pretty faithful to the original, though it probably weighed about five times as much, in that I made the armor and spikes in my junior high metal shop class out of heavy gauge steel.
People sometimes ask me about creating Shag costumes – It’s hard to translate my art into 3-D objects satisfactorily, and I’m usually disappointed. I wouldn’t completely rule it out in the future, though.

Can you give us an idea of what would make the perfect Shag-tastic Halloween party? Recommended drinks, music, decor?

Oh, think Hell-meets-the-Playboy Mansion circa 1966, and that would be the theme for the perfect Halloween party. Dark liquors served out of oversized decanters, Playboy Bunnies with devil horns, purple crushed velvet, red velour, round beds and rugs, and a DJ spinning hot bachelor pad music would complete the scene.

Do you ever cut loose (pun intended) on Shag jack-o-lanterns? Any pictures you can share with us? Ever consider a line of Shag pumpkin carving patterns? Only the most diabolical prankster could even consider smashing a Shag pumpkin!!!

Oh! My friends and neighbors always want to see the jack-o-lanterns I carve for my kids at Halloween, and they’re always disappointed. I let my kids draw what they want, and I carve it. But they always draw the typical jack-o-lantern: triangle eyes, big square teeth. I can carve two of those in about 20 minutes, then get back to painting…

Your work of late has seemed to lean toward a slightly darker aesthetic. Can you give us a bit of insight into this new direction?

I was getting tired of the bright colors and happy scenes, so I took a little vacation from that. The more recent stuff is darker and more introspective, and relies less on kitsch and pop culture imagery than most of my other work. It split the fans of my art – some thought it was tremendous and some were really put off by it.

Do you have a favorite scary movie? Anything that screams “Halloween” for you?

I like scary movies that rely on psychological build up rather than special effects or gore, like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, or The Omen. The first Halloween movie fits that bill, too. My recent favorite is Let The Right One In (the original Swedish version).

Any upcoming releases or events you can share with us? Any chance we’ll ever see a Shag Netherworld Haunted House image on a print or t-shirt (hint, hint)?
Oh, I think it would be fun to do a Netherworld Haunted House image!

More info can be found at Shag’s official site at www.shag.com

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