Lions and Tigers and Pin-Ups, Oh My! – Jungle Drums by Shag

Corey Helford Gallery downtown

The artist Shag (aka Josh Agle) has a new solo show, Jungle Drums, at the Corey Helford Gallery through February 13, 2016. But before you jump in your car to head for Culver City, you must know that the gallery has moved to a new space in the industrial Arts District of downtown LA.

Shag Jungle Drums

Before you browse the art, you should watch Eric Minh Swenson’s two videos on display in the entrance area (or check them out online). “Shag: My Tiki Cup Runneth Over” gives a glimpse at Shag’s collection of tiki mugs and carvings.

Shag's pin-up inspiration

Meanwhile, “Shag: Jungle Drums” presents some background on the show, including a look at the main source of inspiration: a set of vintage 1950s pin-up decals “in all their politically incorrect glory” that Shag found at a thrift store in his formative younger years.

Jungle Drums art show

One of Shag’s challenges for his first show in this new location was utilizing the “airplane hangar”-like space, so he designed these tall “spirit totems” peeking out behind this wall-sized piece. I like how subjects from his art often show up again in 3D form. (Even the stylized skull tiki torches were made tangible in a collaboration with Mod Fab Group to make the “Skorch.”)

Bunny and the Beasts by Shag

In the show’s artist statement, Shag says: “In the decades since, I’ve seen women reclaim the Pin-up Girl aesthetic: strong, tattooed models and independent female photographers have revived and revitalized the genre and turned themselves into pop culture stars.” This theme of empowerment is represented in “Bunny and the Beasts,” an idealized vision of a 1950s shoot with pin-up photographer “Bunny” Yeager and the iconic Bettie Page.

Primal Cuts by Shag

“Primal Cuts” is the largest painting in the show, clocking in at nine feet long. The female revelers are attired as panthers and their “man-eating” capabilities illustrated by the butcher chart emblazoned on the brown jacket of the man on the far right. (This reminded me of “Predators and Prey” from the 2012 show “Animal Kingdom.”)

close-up of Primal Cuts by Shag

A print of “Primal Cuts” was just made available for purchase online, and Shag: The Store Palm Springs is hosting a release party on February 13th. (Shag is also participating in a few other events during Palm Springs Modernism Week, including a fundraiser cocktail party at the recently restored Caliente Tropics hotel.)

Living room by Modernica Props

The highlight for me is this mid-century modern dream of a living room outfitted by Modernica Props. (It should come as no surprise that they’ve worked with “Mad Men,” amongst many other TV shows.)

Pinup with Tiger and Spirit Mask by Shag

This is also where visitors first encounter Shag’s series of tributes to those jungle pin-ups, each posed with a wild animal and a “spirit mask.” (I’m guessing they weren’t called “tikis” since they’re not in a Polynesian environment?)

Shag spirit masks

Corey Helford Gallery is open from 12 p.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The address is on Anderson Street, but you’ll actually find the entrance and fenced-in parking lot by turning right onto Willow Street. The paintings can also be seen on the gallery’s website, but I highly recommend seeing this setup in person if you can.

Corey Helford Gallery
571 S. Anderson St.
Los Angeles, CA 90033
310-287-2340

Don the Beachcomber featured at “To Live and Dine in L.A.” Menu Exhibit

Entrance to To Live and Dine in LA

Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt essentially created the concept of what would later be called tiki bars when he opened Don’s Beachcomber Café in Hollywood in the 1930s. Naturally, he’s an important figure in tiki, but it was interesting to see him acknowledged in the overall Los Angeles restaurant scene at the Central Library’s recent exhibit “To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus from the Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.”

Green tables at To Live and Dine in LA

It was set up so that you could sit down at tables to admire the vintage menus under the glass. Each area corresponded to a theme — cafeteria-style counters for Clifton’s, a round table with a lazy susan stocked with condiments for Chinese restaurants, etc. — but all were painted neon green to provide some continuity.

Cruise line menu

In the section “Feasts, Balls & Banquets,” we saw some of the collection’s earliest menu specimens, which go as far back as 1875. According to curator Josh Kun, “The banquet tradition extended everywhere, from the SS City of Los Angeles [1930] steamer cruise to Hawaii, where you could feast on poi alongside spiced fig fritters.”

Don the Beachcomber 1941 menu

A 1941 menu for Don the Beachcomber was included under “The Menu as Map” as an example to illustrate “…how restaurants subjectively envisioned the borders and limits of the city that surrounded them…(what was on their maps was just as important as what was left off).” This cover draws a connection (literally and figuratively) between Hollywood and the Polynesian islands across the ocean that inspired the restaurant.

Don the Beachcomber

Don the Beachcomber was also featured among the restaurant photos plastered on the walls, along with other iconic spots like Bob’s Big Boy, Tail O’ The Pup and The Tamale.

Kelbo's menu

I also spotted the menu for Kelbo’s, a Hawaiian bar-b-q restaurant that was famous for its ribs and eclectic decor. (It shouldn’t be that surprising that a longtime employee of Kelbo’s was part of the family that started dear, departed Bahooka.)

Zamboanga

Previously unknown to me was Zamboanga, a nightclub that “tried to represent its vague ‘South Seas’ theme and Philippines namesake by turning its menu [circa 1940s] into a tailless pipe-smoking monkey.” (Tiki Central has a couple interesting threads on this spot with some lovely photos of the bamboo-filled space as well as context for the un-politically correct origin of the name and logo.)

A "My LA Menu" submission

Visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to put together their own “ultimate L.A. menu” to represent the city. Of the dozens up on display, I noticed this one mentioned their ideal appetizers and drinks as fried shrimp, spareribs and a Mai Tai from Don the Beachcomber. What would your ideal L.A. menu be?

To Live and Dine in LA

The exhibit has already concluded, but you can pick up the companion book To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of the Modern City by Josh Kun.

Mondo Tiki! – Tiki Farm’s 15th Anniversary Exhibition

Tiki Farm sign

Tiki Farm is the king of modern tiki mug manufacturing. For 15 years, founder Holden Westland and his team have collaborated with super-talented artists to create more than 2,000 designs. La Luz de Jesus gallery in Los Angeles is hosting an exhibition of mugs along with art from Tom Laura aka “BigToe,” Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, Doug Horne and Ken Ruzic. There’s also a retro-futuristic solo show, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” from Michelle Bickford.

Mug cases by Bamboo Ben

While the 10th anniversary exhibition rounded up examples of practically every mug Tiki Farm ever produced, this time around the display features 500 of the “most important and coveted selections.” Bamboo Ben customized the eight cases of shelves with bamboo and thatch A-frames.

Bahooka mug and others by The Pizz

Most of the mugs are arranged chronologically, but one of the sections groups together designs by The Pizz, Tiki Farm’s late art director. Seeing so many of my favorites here, like the Bahooka Ruffus mug, for instance, brings home how big a part he played at the company. (Holden penned a beautiful tribute to his friend in the latest issue of Tiki Magazine & More.)

Clifton's owl mug

I’m pretty content with my collection, but this exhibit is full of temptations. This stately mug (by The Pizz) for the recently re-opened Clifton’s Cafeteria caught my eye. It kind of reminds me of the Maltese Falcon … except it’s an owl. I actually ended up visiting that downtown LA landmark the same weekend, but unfortunately they’re out of stock of this style — I hope they get more soon!

Tiki Farm 15th anniversary mugs

Each of the featured artists also designed new mugs in honor of Tiki Farm’s 15th anniversary, including Ken Ruzic’s Poko Ono Pineapple Mug, BigToe’s Bobomb (the iconic Tiki Bob transformed into a hand grenade complete with a pin) and the Rub for Rum Easter Island Tiki Decanter ($75) by Michelle Bickford.

Doug Horne tiki mugs

In the middle is Doug Horne’s Tiki Farm Temple Mug (with holders on the back for Tiki Farm’s anniversary swizzle sticks) and on the right is Flounder’s Nari Rani Marquesan Mug. There were limited edition glazes ($50 each) released at the event — a few are still available on Soap Plant’s website — and Tiki Farm just made the other versions (priced around $20) available for order.

Close-up of "Too Much Information" painting by Ken Ruzic

The artists even incorporated their mug designs into the paintings, as you can see in this close-up look at Ken Ruzic’s “Too Much Information.” I love the whimsical style and incredible details, especially paired with this carved frame by Derek Weaver.

Mondo Tiki catalog

Tiki Farm also made a 40-page booklet ($5) listing all the designs created since 2000, plus some photos and little anecdotes about the process. We also get a sneak peek at some mugs that are in development. There’s some exciting stuff in the works, like a 60th anniversary mug for Oceanic Arts, two new designs for Tiki-Ti, a mug for Tiki Tolteca in New Orleans and a rum barrel/bulldog for Idle Hour in North Hollywood.

Art by Scott Scheidly

Mondo Tiki! is on view until November 29th at La Luz de Jesus. On Saturday, November 28th, Holden, BigToe and Ken will do a “docent tour” from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. to discuss the mugs and art and take questions. You can also see all the art (like Flounder’s gorgeous “Sea Goddess” pictured here) on the website for the gallery.