Jo Brocklehurst’s portraits crackle with vigor, color, and an ample dose of punk attitude. They portray tough and sinewy muscular punks dressed to the nines. Although she passed away in 2006, Brocklehurst will be remembered most keenly as an eccentric fixture in the U.K. Anarcho-punk scene in the 1980’s, associated with the bands Crass and Adam, The Ants, and renowned fan zine Kill Your Pet Puppy, where Brocklehurst’s work sometimes appeared. Brocklehurst was a shy and eccentric artist, living to create her work, and inviting punks and squatter kids up to her flat to sit for portraits with the promise of earl grey tea.
“She didn’t give a shit about impressing people[…]She was driven to create. I think there are a lot of great artists that can slip through the net because they’re not all about the cash. The only time she’d sell stuff would be because she needed the money to facilitate a trip. She was the real deal,” says Isabelle Bricknall, a close friend of Jo’s, in an article for Vice U.K.
Jo and Isabelle met on the underground fetish-wear scene- Many people would design and construct their own outfits, including Isabelle, who would collaborate with her boyfriend, a metalsmith, to create solid steel body Armor. Jo would be in the background, observing and sketching the scene and trying to be as discreet as possible, often wearing a wig and black jacket; I used to think, “How the hell can she draw in a dark club?’ But she could. Later down the line I realized she had a gift,” said Isabella.
Jo’s work gained momentum and she was invited to show in the Francis Kyle galleries, presenting twice at their London Gallery and once at their New York outpost – but the artist remained allusive, disliking the way her work was portrayed. Little is known about her work after this brief period in the early 1980’s, we do know that she hopped around between London, Berlin and New York, where she was a collaborator with the Guerrilla Girls, and possibly influencing the fashion world, as Gaultier and Thierry Mugler began to create fetish-wear looks akin to her drawings in the coming years.
She was very much a feminist, with a strong opinion about women’s roles as artists and how they were recognized. “I think that’s why the drawings were so brutal. We weren’t going to romanticize anything about the models. It was about extracting character. She was working in a period when the subculture was still the subculture,” says former classmate and now teacher at Saint Martin’s in London, where Jo would frequently participate in figure drawing classes as a guest.
Jo Brockleworst was a talented artist and quiet powerhouse, living her life on her own terms. She was ahead of her time and her legacy would go on to influence the art world long after she passed away, although she did not feel the need to participate in its more sinister and money obsessed aspects during her lifetime. Jo was even in the process of creating a museum to feature her work in her own house during the later years of her life. She is an inspiration to artists out their own path.
h/t: Vice U.K.