Mel Odom's Secrets Garden

Mel Odom, Invernay's Summer, 2011, Oil on board

Beginning December 10th, the Portraits, Inc. New York Gallery will be hosting a show of aide-mémoire paintings by the famed illustrator and fashion doll creator, Mel Odom. 

Mel Odom’s paintings fixate on dolls ranging from post-war Barbies to Civil War-era porcelains--a focus that is somewhat surprising given that the artist is a grown man.  Judgments aside, the works are compelling emblems--at first glance, symbolic narratives of childhood innocence long lost.  Odom’s inner child is alive and kicking and the imaginative work that inner soul animates likewise calls forth the feral innocence of his viewers.

By the 1990s Odom had amassed a sizable collection of vintage dolls--a passion that along with his fashion-inspired art work led him to create a fashion doll named Gene who was based upon actresses of Hollywood’s golden era.  With her many collectible costumes, Gene was, in essence, a three-dimensional realization of the romanticized figures in Odom’s drawings and paintings.  And like the beauty queens and starlets of the '40s and '50s she was modeled after, Gene ignited escapist ideation as a fantasy figure upon which to project hopes and dreams.

In the 1980s, prior to launching Gene, Odom created graphic and stylized images for high-end fashion magazines which, like Gene, trafficked in glamour and fantasy.  A similar style prevails in the current works—at first we appear to be led into a world inhabited by fabulous dolls and outré costumes.  The scenery varies as the series progresses.  In early paintings, dolls are depicted in front of farmhouses and sprays of forsythia. In later paintings, they are seen floating in pools dappled by rain or posing in storm-torn landscapes.  Still others sport halos and lie fallen among autumn leaves.  With these later, more fractured compositions, Odom’s dolls retreat further and further from the banality of the waking world into the enigmatic recesses of dreams and half-memories.

Mel Odom, Laura Elizabeth, 2007, Oil on board

The paintings created for Secrets Garden follow a classical method augmented with the convenience of modern technology.  Odom first explores ideas of paintings in rough thumbnail sketches, and he chooses the best sketches to work up into full realized drawings.  Odom points out that, “Because my compositions tend to be intricate, it is very difficult for me to make major changes to a painting once I begin.”  He goes on to say, “It’s smarter for me to work out the drawing and compositional concerns first, so I can then just focus on color and painting.” Odom’s attention to detail and composition is one of the many ways he sets himself apart.

The eagerness to create escapist art comes as no surprise after hearing of the many hardships that Odom has been through in his life.  Odom reveals, “I lost many friends to AIDS, and my mother suffered from depressions that at various periods in her life necessitated institutional care.  The Civil War doll paintings seemed to embody that sense of loss, instability, and the cycling through of intense feelings that is so much a part of the grieving process.”

Symbolism plays a vital role in Odom’s paintings, which are meant to help one accept the loss and hardship a person has been through in his or her own life.  Odom’s paintings can serve as a reminder to us of the playfulness we used to have as children but have lost along the way as well as an escape from our everyday life, helping us to move on from the hardships that we, too, have been through.  This is a quality that the viewer can hope to continue to see in Odom’s work.

For further information about the exhibition or commissioning a portrait by one of our artists, please 
e-mail us.  

By Michael Gormley


Portraits, Inc. was founded in 1942 in New York on Park Avenue. Over its 70-year history, Portraits, Inc. has carefully assembled a select group of the world’s foremost portrait artists offering a range of styles and prices. Recognized as the industry leader, Portraits, Inc. provides expert guidance for discerning clients interested in commissioning fine art portraits.