Jo Brocklehurst drew live in London’s fetish clubs, punk squats and theatres through the 1970-90s. Last week we opened Jo Brocklehurst: Nobodies and Somebodies, the first retrospective of her figurative portraits. 100 works capture the punks, cabaret artists, new romantics, drag queens and fetishists at the heart of London’s late 20th century subculture. Many of them joined us for the opening party - to see themselves, in their youth, framed and on a gallery wall, and to celebrate Jo's unique documentation of the creative subversion that would become so influential to mainstream culture. In this blog we bring together the people, the portraits and the photos taken at the time.
Jo lived and worked in a purpose-built artist’s studio on Westbere Road in West Hampstead. In the early 1980s she started seeing punks passing by and soon began inviting them into her home to model for her, in return for afternoon tea. They were members of the anarcho-punk Puppy Collective who were squatting in a building on the same street, including Tony Drayton, editor of the infamous Kill Your Pet Puppy zine. These punk portraits were hugely popular at the time and have gone to on define Jo’s output.
Brett and Val in Meanwhile Gardens
Val with Jo's drawings of her
Nicky and Val at a punk/hippy festival in Meanwhile Gardens, near Westbourne Park
Colin Swift with his portrait
Al, Val and Wolfen at Meanwhile Gardens
Tony Drayton on Westbere Road
Tony with his portraits
Tony against a wall in NW6
Val and Louise on Westbere Road
On the performng arts scene
Jo also drew live in theatres, jazz clubs and cabaret bars through the 1980s, including London’s famous Blitz Club. Here are 80s cabaret duo and Blitz regulars, James 'Biddie' Biddlecombe and Eve Feret with their portraits.
James 'Biddie' Biddlecombe
Jo's Rubber Angels
London’s fetish clubs were dens of experimentation in the 1990s, bringing together performers, artists and fashion designers seeking a place to express themselves. Isabelle Bricknall, co-curator of our exhibition and Jo’s close friend, designed a series of steel body armour fabricated by Anthony Gregory that was intended as ‘protection’ for nights on the fetish scene. Jo created several series of drawings of Isabelle and other ‘Rubber Angels’, using reflective neons and metallic inks. Jo said of her images of women: “I regard myself as a feminist and for this reason I have been very concerned to paint women to appear strong and confident.”
Two of Jo’s Rubber Angels, Isabelle Bricknall and Eryka Isaak, beside their portraits