There is a form of collective amnesia which permeates the contemporary art world where people ‘forget’ those who came before them and who they are indebted to. An example of this occurred on 2nd February 2017 when two exhibitions simultaneously opened on the same night in London. Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s exhibition opened with much fanfare at Blain Southern. These enfant terribles of the art world pose, dress and act as if they had just walked out of one of the late Jo Brocklehurt’s artworks, an exhibition of which, “Nobodies & Somebodies” was opening at the House of Illustration at the same time on the same night.
Her artworks of fetish clubs are document experiments with sex, gender and androgyny
Jo Brocklehurst who died in 2006 age 70, an artist/illustrator was an influential part time tutor and mentor to generations of art students from the 1960’s onwards. She enjoyed recording in her drawings the lives of those around her, like the Punks who lived in squats down the road from where she lived. However, clubs and the underground scene were her passion. Her artworks of the fetish clubs document experiments with sex, gender, androgyny with Performers like, Franko B, Leigh Bowery, and fashions that inspired many designers l Alexander McQueen. Her life’s work forms a unique record of subculture in London, New York, Paris, and Berlin. The cultural underbelly of contemporary society became Brocklehurst’s subject matter as it had done for Toulouse Lautrec a century earlier in Paris. They both share in their work the perspective of an outsider, Lautrec, his lack of height, Brocklehurst, her mixed race background. It is a perspective that made them so non-judgemental about those around them. Like Lautrec, Brocklehurst drew portraits of all the interesting people she met along the way, many of whom went on to become famous and infamous in their own right.
This posthumous exhibition is Co-curated by her model and muse Isabelle Bricknell who recalled meeting her mentor Jo Brocklehurst: “Jo Brocklehurst came into my life when I was a student doing my MA in fashion and textiles at Nottingham. She made an impact as she walked into the room tall beautiful intense eyes looking at you. She was very strict in class no music, learning the power of silence to focus – you were there to learn how to draw! No small sketch pads, suggesting to free up your drawings to use wallpaper lining paper so you could make huge drawings The next time our paths crossed when I had just moved down to London working my first job in fashion design with Zandra Rhodes. Jo turned up one afternoon to her great friend for tea, Colin Barnes fashion Illustrator I was modelling for him, she asked if she could draw me they both did. This was the start of an amazing friendship of a Woman who was a great artist, tutor, mentor, I became a muse for her, we collaborated on many art exhibitions together I designed and made with Anthony Gregory (my Boyfriend at the time) a Collection of futuristic Body Armour Metal Works of Art first shown on the fetish club scene. All the people who wore the pieces were bespoke made for them. They were all creatives in design, dance, music at the time. Jo did paintings of the whole Collection of Body Armour shown at The Club, Ministry of Sound, for the launch of Wired magazine Jo’s paintings of the Body Armour were part of a digital experimental piece. She would recant to me tales about the difficulty female artists had shown their art and how she was grateful to the feminist movement for giving her and others spaces to exhibit The Guerrilla Girls when she was in New York.”
Although created towards the end of the last century Brocklehurst’s work still looks incredibly fresh and subversive. Her androgynous punk aesthetic combines the glorious kitsch fluorescent colour scheme of punk with the deft line of Egon Schiele. In a true punk ‘can-do’ aesthetic she would use whatever materials came to hand, such as wallpaper, to make her drawings. It takes great skill to draw directly using pure colour. Brocklehurst said that she liked to use all the colours of the spectrum except black and it is the lack of black in her drawings that lifts the subject matter of the paper and gives them their visual ‘bang’. Her use of high-key chromatic colours as backgrounds, clever use of negative space and virtuoso line put Brocklehurst’s drawings in a league above so many of today’s artists.
These are pictures created through courage, determination and above all a willingness to fail. These are artworks that have teetered on the edge of defeat and won through – which is an undeniable part of their allure. The exhibition also features her drawings of Berlin’s 1990s performing arts scene for the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, alongside clubland-inspired interpretations of Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Jo Brocklehurst’s “Nobodies & Somebodies” is the first exhibition I have been to in several years where I left feeling so elevated that I was inspired to go home and draw. Miss it at your peril.
Words: Darren Coffield Images: Courtesy House of Illustration
Jo Brocklehurst’s “Nobodies & Somebodies” until 14 May 2017 House of Illustration London