The artist’s aloof figures are burdened by their own beauty in this career-sweeping exhibition, curated by Michael Bullock and staged at David Lewis Gallery

Last night at David Lewis Gallery, Mel Odom opened Blind Tongue, an achingly beautiful solo exhibition devoted to the saturated sensuality of surrealist portraiture. Featuring some of the last work Odom created using his seven-step process, the show spans a large swath of the artist’s career, from the late-1970s to the present. Devotion to a rigorous drawing process lights up these 18 Neo-Deco portraits and still lifes from within.

Michael Bullock—writer, and the curator behind Blind Tongue—first became acquainted with Odom’s work in art school. He was presented as a “master draftsman.” Says Bullock, “The more I saw of his world, [the more] I was captivated by his take on gender. His men are muscular and vulnerable, and his women are powerful and glamorous.”

It’s easy to see why Odom was described as “an addict of beauty” by longtime friend and collaborator Edmund White. Combining the facial structures and gravitas of Greek statues with the excess of ’80s music videos, the artist’s vision for Blind Tongue is that of a campy Narcissus. “I feel the [title relates to the idea of] words frequently [seeming] false, compared to actually seeing something or feeling it,” says Odom. Many of his men have their eyes closed, as if burdened by their good looks. His female subjects either stare directly at the audience, or far off in the distance, full lips parted, cheekbones high. They all retain an air of aloof glamor, further exacerbated by Odom’s at times candy-colored palette.

“I wanted [the show] to be my best effort, the most beautiful graffiti on the cultural wall.”

Left: BLIND TONGUE 1996. Graphite, dyes, and gouache. 7 x 5 1/8 in. 17.8 x 13 cm. Right: SUNKEN WOMAN 1981. Graphite, dyes, and gouache 21 x 29 1/2 in. 53.3 x 74.9 cm.

Yet this show presents Odom and his oeuvre at their most intimate; Bullock’s decision to stage the exhibition at David Lewis’s home brings the artist’s opulent work down to a more accessible realm, with rarely-shown portrait HARD STUFF on display. Notes Bullock: “It’s a piece Odom [made] to commemorate a long and difficult relationship he had with a bad boy who suffered from addiction—one of Mel’s most personal works.”

Blind Tongue is an artistic triumph, as well as a moment to reflect. At 73, Odom continues to draw daily and remains committed to beauty of the highest order. “I wanted [the show] to be my best effort, the most beautiful graffiti on the cultural wall.”