Acclaimed American artist Josh Agle – better known as Shag – has returned to Melbourne’s Outré Gallery this month to exhibit his latest Inscrutable Mystery Guide series. Showing an mix of original paintings, giclée prints, new serigraph prints and rare early work, Outré curator Gemma Jones says the exhibition is set to jolt at least a few of his fans out of their comfort zone.

“It is an interesting exhibition because you do see all the usual prints on the walls, which are kind of like his good-times, swinging life,” she says. “And then you have the most representative stuff, which are these landscape narratives that kind of look like nightmares more than anything.”

Moving into what Jones describes as a darker, more surreal and complex phase, Shag’s latest work has departed from his signature retro iconography and lifestyle scenes, into deeper dream-like representations. “He is using the same symbols,” Jones says, “but he is pointing to different things. Whereas in the past the tiki stuff related to the 50s and 60s, and an obsession with the lifestyle, now they have a different layer of meaning.” Wrestling with the success of his images, she says Shag has deliberately set out to upset a few people in order to create some new room for his own development.

“In a lot of ways he has painted himself into a bit of a corner,” Jones says. “So I guess this is him saying ‘I need to progress, I need to bust out and I have other things I want to deal with artistically.”

Inscrutable Mystery Guide runs until September 4 at Outre Gallery.