Visionaires: Jo Brocklehurst

The late figurative artist and Cutler and Gross devotee Jo Brocklehurst celebrated subculture in 1970-90s London, Berlin and New York.

Her unique, mesmerising and extraordinary artwork is currently on display at London’s House of Illustration until 14th May 2017.

An extraordinary figure within an environment of inspiration, innovation and freedom, Jo Brocklehurst was an artist who used simple methodology to create the unexpected and the avant-garde. Not interested in fame or fortune, she just wanted to draw. Every single day. She was one of those rare talents and a true individual.

Jo drew in punk squats, in fetish clubs and across Europe’ s subcultural scene of the 1970s and 80s. Her work is strong, colourful and mesmerising. Just like her subjects. A dancer or a jazz singer in a Berlin club, a punk in London or a fetish party goer; each drawing exudes the artist’ s natural ability to portray the human form in movement and in a differing, often provocative attire.

As her model, muse and friend Isabelle Bricknall tells us, she had a rather individual approach to drawing: “Jo created a disguise, which became her ‘ artist look’ when she was drawing in clubs, theatres or galleries. She was a tall, exotic, beautiful woman with cat-like eyes that always had eyeliner on them, perfect for the spectacles she hid behind to draw. She wore black from head toe, a simple comfortable jacket and trousers to be able to focus on drawing.”

Together, Isabelle and Jo collected spectacles from different periods dating from the 1960s to 2000, some found in charity shops whilst most others were treasured Cutler & Gross frames. The glasses themselves were an essential part of Jo’ s artistic attire. “She wore an ash blonde wig and three pairs of glasses on her head when she was drawing in the clubs,” Isabelle explains, “a pair of glasses with clear lenses and two pairs that would be sunglasses, with one of the pairs of the sunglasses used to stop people seeing who or what she was drawing. A form of protection and also a real feat to be able to draw with three pairs on your head!”

Finding the subculture of 1980s fetish clubs and punk scenes mesmerising, she documented this world in beautiful line drawings with flashes of colour and without attempting to keep the subject beautiful. She showed the real deal.

Born in England in the 1930s – Jo Brocklehurst never revealed her true age, it wasn’ t important – she gained a scholarship at 14 to Central St Martins and it was here she met a group of likeminded artists and creatives who took her off to her first fetish club evening. Having drawn in the clubs of the 1950s, the artist was immediately intrigued by the eclectic nature of this world. Jo became a fixture in subculture as it grew into more mainstream punk during the 1980s across Europe. She spent much time in Berlin and was involved in feminist art movements in New York City.

The figurative artist had considerable success with drawings she did of her local London punks, showing at Francis Kyle in London and Leo Castelli in New York. Jo was brilliant at capturing the body in movement. She recorded all sorts of singers, DJs and dancers across the Europe.

Jo Brocklehurst was unique. She was a creative and yet she remained shy and full of grace. She was what many have termed a true artist and a genius at that.

Jo Brocklehurst: Nobodies and Somebodies, at the House of Illustration in London until 24th May 2017

The House of Illustration will be displaying many of Jo Brocklehurst’ s works never shown before from 3rd February until 14th May 2017, featuring the artist’ s best-known portraits from the 1980s alongside drawings she worked up overnight for publication in the next day’ s Berliner Zeitung newspaper. It will also contain paintings from Brocklehurst’ s final installation – a Victorian tearoom in her Hampstead studio that was covered in club-land inspired interpretations of Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The exhibition is co-curated by her model and muse Isabelle Bricknall with House of Illustration’ s Olivia Ahmad.

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