Currently reading : SB6 Archive (2012): BJ Broekhuizen
Art by BJ Broekhuizen
Portraits by Kate Cox
Studio shots by Sang Bleu
Drawing inspiration from biology and natural science to the physicality of the human form and its unnatural manipulation, Cape Town-born artist BJ Broekhuizen creates a range of beautifully bright, hypnotizing ink and acrylic paintings: “I find it difficult to talk about my work, really difficult.”
As I approach the door of an expansive townhouse, I am greeted by a man of colossal stature; softly spoken and surprisingly shy, he welcomes me with unparalleled hospitality, offering carefully laid out biscuits as he leads me to a comfortable, brightly lit room where pages of references, thoughts and ideas are laid out; having asked me prior to our meeting to outline subjects I was going to speak about so he could prepare appropriately—an observation, perhaps, into the thoughtful nature of this reserved character.
Moving to London from his native South Africa and working for 8 years as a visual merchandiser for one of London’s biggest department stores, the impending doom of the recession suddenly thrust upon him all kinds of creative restrictions, turning his artistic statements into a flurry of sales figures and statistics. So, like so many dream, but few have the guts to do, he left and began painting full-time to support himself.
Originally studying menswear, “the whole body thing, my clothes were all inspired by cut,” citing huge inspiration from designer Gareth Pugh, and textiles previously “my prints were always like muscle fibres,” an interest in physicality and natural form has underlined each and every field he has undertaken, as if sitting at the back of his mind, cultivating and developing. “Before I create my drawings or paintings, the idea [hangs] for up to a year in my head. It’s about observing something and thinking about it—creativity does not happen in a linear way.”
But what is the source of such a unique and directed interest? “I was in hospitals as a child, I got a virus in my throat so I had to have three or four operations a year,” in medical care from the age of two to about 16 due to a disease in his throat, an unconventional and somewhat restricted childhood has impressed a wealth of interests and reference points, unorthodox to some, but seemingly natural to him—“my whole childhood I was in hospitals, so there’s always been that thing with the medical, I wanted to be a doctor from a young child.”
“you need to sell your work, but also you do what you want to do”
"...recording is something I discover is vital to BJ’s existence; a memory that often fails him, forced to record everything he does..."
This interest has stayed with him to this day in various forms, taking a literal interest in that which threatened his health, “being brought up thinking you’ve got a virus inside of you,” and projecting that interest directly into his work. “I did a whole series of diseases, cancers and viruses under the microscope,” the idea of seeing beauty in something that’s also deadly, a thoughtful approach, but he comments that it’s not for everyone. When selling work he often keeps quiet about subject matter, “because they get put off.” He tells of a woman, a housewife he says, who didn’t like the idea of viruses but was drawn to a particular red painting, thinking it looked like flowers; “it was actually cancer cells.” It is this attitude, of knowing the ‘fine line’ between commerciality and expression, that shows the work is really for no one but himself; “you need to sell your work, but also you do what you want to do.”
Taking this concept to an extreme, his interest in natural form and physicality extends to body modification—which he sees as a way of taking control, being ‘your own creator.’ He speaks of visiting London’s Bodyworks gym, known for the extreme nature of visitors; “there was this guy last week, he was an actual deformed person, he’d taken so much growth hormone he had like extra things here,” he gestures. This fascination with modification is furthered by the basis of his interest, the philosophical implication of taking control of your own form, beyond that which occurs naturally, and creating anew; “all of these things, [it’s] being god.”
At this point he interjects with a thought, immediately scribbling it down before it is lost. This kind of recording is something I discover is vital to BJ’s existence; a memory that often fails him, forced to record everything he does, he keeps a journal in the form of a series of images, from places visited to meals eaten—kinds of mental triggers helping to piece together a life lived that may otherwise be forgotten. He speaks of memories he might have lost, and more extraordinarily ones that have been difficult points he’d rather forget—he simply can destroying the record of it happening, wipes it, from events to even people, from his memory; a luxury I’m sure many of us would be grateful of, but all the same terrifying in the permanence of its execution.
This break was to cite only the first of many influences he’ll go on to share, such as Genesis P-Orridge, front of pioneering industrial band Throbbing Gristle whose own interests in gender and body modification spawned pandrogynous collaboration with partner Lady Jayne Breyer P-Orridge, undergoing a series of surgical procedures to look like one another in an extreme, lifelong art piece. I wonder, then, is there a line BJ is unwilling to cross? “No there’s no line – just keep going.” We speak of his own plans for modification, his collection of tattoos which, as expected, reflect his artistic interests perfectly to which he gestures around their form, as if growing organisms themselves…I half expect them to move across his flesh. He tells me the importance of placement, of letting the body’s form guide the images that cover it.
He speaks more of his inspiration, of the importance of cloning, blood and surgery, but also the evolution of man, citing Darwin as one of the greatest influences on his practice, to the influences impressed on him by his school of gender and identity through masquerade dance. As he jumps again, to Holy Mountain director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and his dramatic representation of alchemy, drawing parallels with it and BJ’s own practice, he mentions also the influence the Polish director has had on a number of his own heroes such as singer Marilyn Manson. It is here the fluid nature of the way in which he draws influence finally becomes apparent, now clear why it is so difficult for him to explain his practice to anyone not tangled tightly within the web of hugely contrasting but infinitely connected influences that plague his mind, tangling and growing like the cancers he paints—“Art is an illness, a virus. It cannot be cured.”