They’re beautiful fairy-like creatures, clad in animal print and latex that resembles slick crude oil, and neon spiky hair. Their eyes are drawn like courtesans, but contain gazes that could cut you like a knife. If you found yourself in a punk club of the eighties surrounded by these gorgeous outcasts, would you dare go up to one of them and ask to draw a picture of them? Well, someone did and created the most amazing images from those experiences.
Jo Brocklehurst was a British artist who would go undercover to the fetish and punk clubs of London, and eventually of other cities of the world, to draw these characters. With a wig and sunglasses, she would walk right in and begin her process of capturing the images of some of the most mysterious yet elusive characters. What makes her story even more incredible is that she is as much as a mystery as the protagonists of her work.
There’s not much information on Brocklehurst, except bits and pieces people close to her were able to infer or find out. It’s assumed she was born during the nineteen thirties and was admitted to St. John's School of Art before the age of fourteen. She was a child prodigy, yet when she graduated four years later, she left the academic world to pursue a new inspiration. She had an interest in fashion illustration, but at some point in the sixties she began to be lured by the emerging punk and fetish club scene. Now that we as a society have a voyeuristic taste for the lives of those who lead more scandalous lives than ours, her work has become a hot commodity. But back when she started, perhaps her artistic friends didn’t understand what she saw in this other side of London.
It’s assumed that one of her influences is Austrian artist Egon Schiele, and it’s no wonder why. The deliberate lines, unapologetic stares, and provocative poses are all reminiscent of that sensuality that is unashamed in being observed and admired. Others claim her style is also quite similar to that of photographers Diane Arbus and Mary Ellen Mark, given how she liked to put herself in the background and focus on the protagonists of the piece. According to Isabelle Bricknall, close friend and curator of Brocklehurst’s posthumous exhibit, “She loved Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo, for example, because they were women of conviction. They stepped outside the norms of their societies.”
Perhaps that last statement explains the artist’s interest in underground communities. During the emerging punk scene of the late sixties, the members of these cliques broke the mold of what was expected of them on various levels. They explored different ways of living their sexuality, through nonconforming gender roles, as well as exploring alternative forms of love. They chose to set themselves apart through fashion and style. It was this assumed alienation where they could find solace and discover new possible paths in their lives.
Interestingly enough, it is usually from these outcasts that we take our inspiration for current fashion trends. It's been forty years, and we’re seeing the style and esthetic of the underground scenes on runways and street style. The It Girls, who would never dare set foot in a seedy pub on the wrong side of the tracks, are walking down the theater district in their BDSM inspired choker, Vivienne Westwood plaid ensemble, and a Chanel handbag full of patches and pins. It’s all those years later that androgyny is loved and nobody is embarrassed of walking into a sex shop to buy some party favors.
Brocklehurst passed away in 2006. While she did not die in complete obscurity, she wasn’t exactly a household name either. But, perhaps she never wanted all that fame and recognition entail. Given her choice of inspiration, she might’ve been completely happy being a cult figure, someone who only those in the scene knew about. It’s likely she didn’t want to draw people who were overly willing to be drawn. Maybe it was her destiny to become iconic, like Egon Schiele, after her passing through this Earth. That way she was able to work freely without the hassle or distraction of adoration.
All images belong to the estate of Jo Brocklehurst.