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Untitled | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst
Untitled | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

Nobodies and Somebodies: Jo Brocklehurst’s Subcultural Visions Explored at the House of Illustration

Picture of Gabrielle Brace Stevenson
Updated: 10 May 2017

The House of Illustration is hosting a major retrospective of Jo Brocklehurst’s expressive drawings, as well as interactive events which resonate with her work and celebrate her as a chronicler of subcultures.

Untitled | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

The disappearing artist

Jo Brocklehurst is not famous. Despite her flair for capturing members of subcultures in quick, large scale sketches and being well respected as an artist during her lifetime, her work remains largely unknown. This fact has a lot to do with Jo herself. She was not a commercial artist and, though she was arguably quite eccentric, shied away from the limelight: hiding beneath multiple pairs of sunglasses and, later in life, a blonde wig.

Jo Brocklehurst | Courtesy of Fershid Bharucha

Brocklehurst wouldn’t sell her work unless she absolutely had to, keeping the majority of the hundreds of drawings she produced. As a result, many pieces were lost when she died in 2006. Teaming up with Isabelle Bricknall, the artist’s close friend, collaborator and muse, the curators at the House of Illustrations have had to sleuth like detectives to uncover examples of work and information about this prolific yet elusive artist. With the help of those who knew her best, they have assembled a timeline of evocative images, shining a light on pieces long left in the dark – works which in turn illuminate various influential subcultures of the late 20th century.

Miss Jacky Worp by Jo Brocklehurst, 1978 | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

A peak into the past

The exhibition takes visitors on a journey through Brocklehurst’s major body of personal work. Starting with her portraits of Blitz Club performers and patrons in the 70s, we move through to 80s era London Punks and the gay clubs of New York’s Meatpacking District, then stop off in mainland Europe’s theatres, move on to the fetish clubs of 90s and finally end up at Brocklehurst’s last project – an intimate, Alice in Wonderland-themed home installation.

Untitled | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

Brocklehurst’s style was bold and she worked quickly on a large scale; you can see wonderfully expressive hands and confident expressions in her drawings, summarised in quick, colourful lines. The work in this exhibition spans decades, but the common theme is Jo’s tireless fascination with drawing people, particularly individuals who took a creative approach to their appearance, be it costume or way of life; performance or street-style.

Untitled | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

The collection is temporary and once this exhibition closes, the illustrations will return to their respective private homes. Nobodies and Somebodies offers a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of interesting lives lived decades past; the thoughts and expressions of creative outsiders whom Brocklehurst sought out, and even the mind the artist herself.

Untitled | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

Celebrating the artist

This exhibition, and the series of events running alongside it, have exemplified Brocklehurst as an insightful creative force. We still know relatively little about her as a person, apart from the most important thing: that drawing was everything. For decades she put herself at the heart of numerous underground scenes, seeking out the strange and beautiful creatures of the night and capturing them in a style as big and as bold as her subjects. No doubt she was an interesting presence; a woman sat in a nightclub, probably 20 years older than the average clientele, surrounded by art supplies and scribbling away on a giant A2 pad, all the while wearing sunglasses – and that wig.

Untitled | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

The upcoming Late Night Takeover on April 27, 2017 will channel the spirit of Brocklehurst’s practice, inviting the nightlife of London into the gallery, where there will be drinks, music and experimental drawing activities. You can grab advance tickets on House of Illustration’s website. The exhibition itself runs until May 14, 2017. 

Red Queen | Courtesy of the Estate of Jo Brocklehurst

House of Illustration, Granary Square, 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London N1C 4BH