By all accounts, Jo Brocklehurst was an interesting figure. Trained at St Martins, the artist and illustrator loved to dress up wearing unusual outfits, wigs, and several pairs of glasses and sunglasses at once.
Jo Brocklehurst : Nobodies and Somebodies review – The House of Illustration
She also had a proficiency at drawing swiftly, with a particular talent for sketching in near darkness – whilst wearing her sunglasses in a dark nightclub, for example. Brocklehurst would drag a wheelie trolley full of materials with her to fetish, LGB and alternative clubs and sit in a corner, capturing the characters who populated the clubs and their carefully put together costumes. The results are a series of vibrant, Egon Schiele-like portraits, in which her early training as a fashion illustrator is apparent in their stylised faces and graceful, muscular bodies. These are the kind of images that can lead to disappointment – according to Brocklehurst these clubs are populated exclusively with lithe, full-lipped, soulful eyed beauties of all genders, perfectly and creatively dressed. Each of them are superheroes with dynamic stances. Visiting the scene for real may not have matched up to this vision.
Punks and Fetish
Jo Brocklehurst : Nobodies and Somebodies contains many of these sketches, with similar series of punks in their distinctive outfits too. Also featured are some of her earlier works, recognisably Brocklehurst but without the hard, quick surety of line that characterise the later ones. These figures, to me, are a little more charming. A girl slumps against a wall, her jumper soft and her gaze vague. interesting, too, are the illustrations for Berliner Zeitung, a German magazine that aimed to revive illustration and not photography as a way of recording events. Brocklehurst was employed to illustrate theatre reviews, which she captured live using a drawing board at her seat, taking the drawings home to finish overnight, ready to be collected by courier for the morning.
Alice in Wonderland
There is also an Alice in Wonderland series, created as Brocklehurst invited friends to dress up and sit for her, taking the various parts of the story. A childhood photo of Brocklehurst herself took the part of Alice.
A video featuring friends, colleagues and sitters fills in the biographical details of Brocklehurst’s life.
An International Artist
The artist is not well-known in England, spending as she did large amounts of time in Berlin and New York. She showed at the Leo Castelli gallery in NY in the 1980s, and also had a show at the Francis Kyle gallery in London at around the same time. The exhibitions sold well and were successful in the eyes of the gallerists but she herself didn’t feel the same way and didn’t show with either gallery again, despite both being open to further exhibitions. Her oeuvre, which is perhaps waiting to be rediscovered, was not limited solely to the figure but also included landscapes, which are sadly not included here. The House of Illustration is a small space, and exhibitions here are necessarily tight and carefully considered- this one focusses mainly on Brocklehurst’s work of the 1980s.
This exhibition is highly recommended as a record and celebration of 1980s counter-culture and a glimpse of an enigmatic figure.