A Q&A with artist Mel Odom


First Eyes (1982).

I’ve emphasised the artist label to distinguish this Mel Odom from the very prolific writer of the same name. The artist received a fleeting mention here in the Gay artists archive but for many years he’s been a highly regarded book and magazine illustrator, with a Gold Medal from the American Society of Illustrators among his accolades. (By coincidence, one of his covers was for an Ellen Datlow horror collection, and I happen to be illustrating a new Ellen Datlow collection of horror stories this week.) More recently Odom has gained a very different audience for his doll designs which are mentioned in passing below. I’m grateful again to John Wisniewski for offering me this piece. Thanks to John and to Mel, more of whose gorgeous art can be seen at his website.


John Wisniewski: When did you begin drawing and painting?

Mel Odom: I’ve been drawing since I was about 4 years old and painting since my early teens. I have scribbles in an early picture book of mine that I’m sure were my first attempts at drawing.

JW: Whom are some of your favorite artists?

MO: I like so many different artists. The Pre-Raphelites were a huge influence on me as well as artists like Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe. Aubrey Beardsley has been an early and constant favorite of mine. Representational art moves me more than the abstract for the most part. Disney animation also shaped what I still think of as being beautiful.


JW: Have you had any exhibitions? If so, what was the reaction to your work?

MO: I’ve really never had a one-man exhibition. When I was illustrating I was too busy to bother and illustration was not considered gallery worthy. Then when I quit illustrating to create Gene [Marshall] there was simply no time to even consider it. I’ve been in tons of group shows where the reaction has been everything from adoring to dismissive. I’ve been working on a series of oil paintings towards a show.

JW: Your work is easily recognizable to those in the art world, Mel. Did you expect this to happen, when you began?

MO: When I started out I knew my drawings didn’t look like anyone else’s, but it wasn’t a conscious ploy for recognition. I devised my style by the process of elimination. I knew what I didn’t want them to look like. I just drew with a vision that made me need to see what the drawing looked like completed. My drawings were always based on a very personal sense of beauty.


Hello, I Lied (1997).

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Ignacio Goitia interviewed


Acrílico sobre tela (My Other Self, 2009).

Back in 2010 I wrote the following about Ignacio Goitia:

Ignacio Goitia is a Spanish artist whose depictions of opulent aristocracy manage to be subversively homoerotic thanks to the addition of figures we can interpret as boyfriends, sex slaves or wish-fulfilling phantasms; Ludwig II would no doubt approve of the sentiment even if he disagreed with some of the decor.

Earlier this year John Wisniewski sent me a short interview he’d done with Mr Goitia which I’m ashamed to say it’s taken me this long to post. My apologies to John and Ignacio. (I’d have been tempted to ask what’s with all the giraffes?)


John Wisniewski: When did you begin drawing and painting?

Ignacio Goitia: I have always, since I can recall, loved drawing and painting. When I was a child, I would spend endless hours with my colour paints, and as soon as I was able, I enrolled myself to different art schools and academies.

Later on I got accepted in the Superior Beaux Art faculty at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao. Since I finished those five years of University, this is all I have been doing, paint.

JW: When was your first art exhibition? What was the reaction to your work?

IG: Since my first exhibition, the public reaction to my work, has been in general, very positive, although, there is always the sceptics, that relate modernity with abstraction and minimalism, conceptualism… Despite this, with the passing of the years, my work has gained many followers in those circles. In all my exhibits the amount of people that has made an effort to visit them, its been quite large.

JW: What inspires you to paint or draw? How do you choose a subject?

IG: My first source of inspiration are my travels. I find it photographing the buildings, monuments, streets and people that catch my attention. I am passionate about architecture, and love discovering in it, the evolution of human thought.

Once in my studio, I select the sceneries that better adapt to the concept that I wish to express. After that, I start introducing the people and subjects, distributing them in the different spaces, until I get the adequate composition that better express my thought. This work of preparation and distribution, is a process that takes several days.

JW: Do you hope to exhibit your work in the USA at sometime? What do you think the reception will be for your work in the USA?

IG: I have exhibited during Art Basel Week in the HACS gallery in Miami in the Year 2007 and 2008. The reception was very good.

I am also participating with a good chance in the Creatives Rising project with See Me and will be featured in the digital projections over facades in NYC next October. We are in the process for an exhibit in Miami and NYC in the near future. Most of the people that I have been dealing in the USA are having a very positive and enthusiastic response.

JW: How is your painting uniquely Spanish and how is it universal?

IG: I think being born in Spain and specifically in the Basque Country has influenced in some of my work, but is something that is not in the back of my mind, and it is not a source of thought when I paint. The scenarios that I create are inspired in many places around the world, and the subjects could belong to different nationalities.

It’s also true, that I have also use as backdrop, cities like Bilbao or Madrid, and there are blinks of folklore and culture belonging to the Basque country or Spain, and I introduce them in some of my work, but not often. I consider my paintings something less related to a particular culture, or universal, there are something more personal and an individual thought on how I see the world, as a result of my own interests and ideas. •

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The gay artists archive

Fetish photographer Rick Castro


Photographs by Rick Castro.

Presenting another guest post from John Wisniewski who back in May contributed an interview with William E. Jones about gay film director Fred Halsted. The subject this time is Rick Castro, pioneering bondage/S&M photographer, and also the proprietor of the Antebellum Gallery in Los Angeles which bills itself as the only fetish gallery in America. Castro has worked with Joel-Peter Witkin and Bruce LaBruce, and also photographed subjects as diverse as the Dalai Lama and Kenneth Anger, neither of them in bondage, unfortunately. As before, John offers a list of ten questions. Read on to discover why hustlers always used to wear white jeans (I have wondered about this)…

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John Wisniewski: When did you begin photographing?

Rick Castro: 1986…around June…. My first photo was of my longtime friend (and former GF!), Odessa. I was a wardrobe stylist at the time, so I dressed her like Morticia Addams. Very high contrast/high shadowed B&W.

My second photo was of Tony Ward. I cast him for his first “mainstream” photo shoot. Editorial for a now defunct men’s magazine, INSTYLE, (published by porn mag IN TOUCH). We were working for photographer Albert Sanchez at the time. Between takes I’d dressed him up in full leather fantasy—leather hood, harness, gauntlets, codpiece, boots and horsetail!

JW: Whom are some of your influences in photography and art?

RC: I like the dead guys: Brassai, Pierre Moliner, F. Holland Day, Julia Margaret Cameron, Otto Dix, Paul Cadmus, Egon Schiele, Tennessee Williams, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gilles De Rais.

JW: When did you meet fellow photographer Joel-Peter Witkin?

RC: Also during 1986, I bought Joel’s first book. At the back of the book was a request: “I am looking for people with physical deformations, amputees. Quadriplegics, burn victims, persons into extreme S&M, a woman with three breasts, geeks, pinheads, a woman with severe skin disease that will pose in an evening gown, anyone bearing the wounds of Christ, Christ.”

Later that year the new annex of Book Soup on Sunset Blvd hosted the first LA photo exhibit for Joel. I attended, introduced myself and gave him a stack of photos I had taken of my potential “models.” He called me the next morning. From then I worked with Joel on 13 of his most iconic photographs as a wardrobe stylist, costume designer, location scout, model scout, casting director, photo assistant, art director, make up artist and all around assistant.

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William E. Jones on Fred Halsted


Presenting an interview by John Wisniewski with William E. Jones, author of Halsted Plays Himself (2011). The subject is gay filmmaker and performer Fred Halsted (1941–1989) whose 1972 film LA Plays Itself was a pioneering piece of low-budget cinema which combined a fragmented view of Los Angeles with explicit liaisons between several men, one of them portrayed by Halsted himself. Halsted took advantage of the period between 1970 and 1975 when porn in the US was no longer illegal but hadn’t yet been industrialised. As with Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour, what you get on the screen isn’t a product, it’s the representation of an obsession. It’s this that makes LA Plays Itself a still surprising and provocative piece of work.

I arrived at this film and Halsted somewhat belatedly, in fact I don’t think I’d read anything about him at all until William E. Jones was interviewed when his book was published. (Matters haven’t been helped in this country by the way hardcore porn of any kind was still illegal into the 1990s.) LA Plays Itself fascinates for the view it gives of the LA cruising scene which John Rechy described in considerable detail in The Sexual Outlaw. It’s a curiously hybrid film, neither straightforward porn—many of the sex scenes are fragmented—nor is it narrative fiction or outright documentary. Together with the recently reissued films of Peter de Rome, it’s the kind of thing that few people would be likely to make today, despite the easier access to film technology and the relaxing of censorship. And like all porn films of this era, it now has a unique look simply because it’s been shot on film.


None of Halsted’s films appear to be on DVD at the moment, and as William Jones notes below, Sextool (1975), the film Halsted regarded as his major work, may only exist as a single fading print.

Here’s John and William.

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John Wisniewski: Why did you choose to write your book on filmmaker Fred Halsted?

William E. Jones: For several years I made money in the adult video industry, producing budget DVD compilations (4 hours for $10) sold in adult video stores. Before technological innovation rendered my job redundant, I watched over 700 hours of gay adult film and video produced between 1969 and 1999. In such vast quantities, the material, especially from the second half of the period, began to seem nightmarish in its ugliness. I would relish the opportunity to see any earlier title, produced before 1985, directed more or less like a movie, shot on location, and sometimes even acted fairly well. I can say without hesitation that Fred Halsted’s films were my favorites of all the videos I saw during those years in the porn industry.

Fred Halsted’s films have many fans but few advocates, and I thought my book could intervene in a decisive way before his legacy – the films and the memories of those who knew him personally – disappears completely. I also chose him as my subject because of his connection to Los Angeles. He lived and worked in neighborhoods I pass through nearly every day. But there was something else that drew me to his films, the uncanny power of work by a novice, and a self-taught one at that. His films are crude, idiosyncratic, and at their best have the force of a revelation.

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