Jo Brocklehurst

House of Illustration
2 Granary Square, King's Cross
March 1, 2017–May 14, 2017

Jo Brocklehurst, Ruber [sic] Angel, 1994, ink, fluorescent acrylic paint, collage, metallic pen, paper, 39 x 28".

Throw a visionary, abundantly talented, half–Sri Lankan fashion illustrator into London’s 1980s anarcho-punk and fetish milieus, and you get these brazen oversize drawings that Jo Brocklehurst effortlessly generated during a high-octane career—almost as marginal as the lives of her demimonde subjects. The prejudice her mixed origins had attracted, typical of the insular 1940s and 1950s England of her childhood, must have warmed her to these countercultures, including those of New York’s gay and s-m clubs where she drew in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the theater and dance scenes she collaborated with in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Salzburg later on.

Few contemporaneous artists drew their subjects as exuberantly as Brocklehurst. She developed an alt portraiture that hybridized body and costume into quasimythological creatures. Brocklehurst turned these punks and fetish-club denizens into heroes of modern life, a century after Charles Baudelaire devised the concept to describe the contemporaneity of anarchistic, downtrodden Parisians. In Untitled (Portrait of Angie), 1984, a single pink breast protrudes from a black-clad, spiky-haired figure that sinuously curls upward across the page. With Change, 1995, the space is flattened into a classical frieze to show the lissome bodies of a long-haired topless man in leather pants seated in front of a woman, presumably in head-to-toe rubber—with daggerlike points for nipples—all set against a flat, fluorescent-red background.

It’s entirely fitting that the last drawings of Brocklehurst’s shown here are characters from Through the Looking Glass (1871), reimagined as an eroticized menagerie wearing vibrantly colored lingerie and bondage gear on flat black or lemon-yellow grounds. The virtually naked and defiant-looking heroine of the drawing Alice, ca. 2000, with playing cards tumbling around her, must be how Brocklehurst imagined herself, a proud outsider completely at home among exotic clans.

— Mark Harris