Monday, September 4, 2017

Beautiful Dreamer

Birthmark, 1980

One of the unexpected boons of the sometimes-plague that is Facebook is the chance to catch up with all kinds of onetime crushes.

Oh, not just the romantic kind (although I plead guilty to having done that kind of snooping. Some have aged well; some... not so much) - any sort or variety, really. The people who once caught one's attention and, in one way or another, helped form one's view of the world, one's - to sound quite entirely highfalutin - sensibility.

Which brings us to the image above, and to a gentleman who had a birthday earlier this week, the artist and visionary Mel Odom.  For a little while in the '80s, Odom's work seemed to be everywhere, and its very omnipresence signified a shift in the culture, for rarely has been there been so entirely gay an oeuvre. His paintings and drawings graced the finest new novels of the burgeoning gay publishing industry; they set off the sometimes remarkably accomplished prose in some of the naughtier gay magazines (not to mention the occasional rag like Time); they adorned greeting cards and tee-shirts and all manner of ephemera.

Drawing from influences that run from de Lempicka to Erté to Beardsley to, further back, Puvis de Chavannes and even, in his figures' attenuated grace, the Mannerists, Odom created a world of languid nudes and curling smoke, of fatal blossoms and profiles cut from crystal, with kohl-rimmed eyes and hair marcelled, seemingly, with the sort of lacquers more usually found on Japanese bowls. He worked in a desaturated palate of pastels that today seems immediately evocative of an era sometimes more noted for its neons and jangling acid tones.

What a pleasant surprise, then, a year or so ago, to discover that he's on Facebook and, as people are, only a degree or so removed from some of my old New York friends and acquaintances.  I had remembered that in the wake of his first vogue, he turned his creative eye to, of all things, a fashion doll, Gene, that combined some of the glamour of early-era Barbie with his own fantasies of a vanished, never-quite-real Hollywood of the studio era. The results were for a while quite successful, but it's nice to discover that he's never given up his works on paper and canvas. Today's Odoms are recognizably those of the man who created the covers of Forgetting Elena and Splendora, but different and fresh and in their own way just as wonderful.

And he seems - it really seems almost unfair - to be a rather wonderful person as well - handsome in a way that reminds one how much self-portraiture figured in his work, and busy, and clearly adored by a large and diverse circle of friends. I hope he had a very happy birthday.

So some rediscoveries are wholly enjoyable; some, by contrast, have a shade more astringency, reminders, I suppose, of Mother Muscato's frequent adage that growing older doesn't really change one, just makes one in every way more so.

Not all that long after I was first intrigued by Odom and his works, I was also aware of a writer, the sort who headlined magazines with glossy profiles of the latest rising star or legendary name in the news. He was one of the regiment of Manhattan glamour boys of the era, and for a little while we were very vaguely acquainted; he went, for a while, to my church. He seemed adequately pleasant, if a bit of a snob, and very much one of those boys of those days who helped create the phenomenon then referred to as "body fascism" - if you weren't beautiful, you weren't much of anything.

He, too, surfaced a while ago on Facebook; various friends shared this or that posting of his, and eventually I followed (rather than "friended" - fascinating, these Facebook distinctions) him, as he has an interesting eye and posts unusual and distinctive photos in series.  His non-visual postings tend toward the personal and confessional (his years since our brief acquaintance have been tumultuous, full of addiction - a side-effect, in some ways, it seems, of body fascism - and drama in all forms) and, since last fall's disastrous election, the political. He is passionate and eloquent, but he also overwrites to an extent that makes me look minimalist and he desperately, desperately needs an editor.

I unfollowed him this past week, and in the days since I have to admit it's been rather a relief. It followed (the unfollowing, as it were) from his having made a rather stupendously tone-deaf quip (about, predictably, someone's appearance) and then, in the face of his audience's vociferously expressed distaste, having doubled down and become most unattractively defensive. It made me realize, despite his fulsome cant about recovery and forgiveness and all that jazz, how fundamentally still the mean-girl A-Gay he seemed to be, and how very much I had never liked that scene. Score one for Mother Muscato, right again as usual.

So I'll stick with Mel Odom (you can learn more about him here, by the bye, and even pick up an Odom of your own if you're relatively well heeled), thank you very much, and leave the political rants and treacly reflections of Mr. X to those who can stomach them.

I hope you're having a lovely Labor Day, those of you in the US of A, or are launched already into the week, elsewhere. I'm lazing at home with the dog, who seems quite pleased, and plan to do nothing more taxing than whip up a meatloaf and do some laundry. Domestic routines can be very soothing, I think, and sooth is something in far too short supply these days, no?


  1. Art Deco, as if attempted by an artist for Marvel Comics... Not sure I have ever seen any of his works before - Patrick Nagel was the more familiar artist at the time. Jx

  2. Oh, good heavens,I too remember his work well, and Jon's comparison of him to Nagel is very on point: they were both EVERYWHERE and both influenced plenty of other, lesser illustrators. They were both sort of, kind of Minimalist.

    And mean girl A-gays. god save us.

  3. Oh, also, I was going to mention my friend Kevin, who has a slight Barbie fetish, was very taken with the Gene dolls and wound up springing for a couple, even though he was pretty much as poor as I was and those dolls were pricey.

  4. Mel Odom - I knew the name from the dolls, had no idea he had done more. Never bought one, just enjoyed the back stories and the outfits (Madra made things interesting). Mel has a way of stylizing everything visually and historically.

    People indicate they change, and how nice for them. I keep a focus upon the people I like; not enough life to apportion for the rest.

  5. I loved those dolls, I wanted to be Gene. I had not heard of Mel Odom as an artist until the doll came out, but I am a doll collector (in a small way). Gene was so complete a story, there were the movies she was in her with the costumes so much fun.