New Art Exhibition in Leeds – Sodium Laureth Sulphate

Helen Dryden’s art show in private residence ‘The Crooked House’ open for one night only!

(To get the address email
The art is available to view for 6 days after, by appointment only.

Please don’t make the address available online, or share it. You have to contact the above email address to get on the list to get in. Cos it’s someone’s real house!

Sleeping Bag, acrylic, marker pen, canvas, pva, glitter, ribbon, stick, on plywood. 2013
Sleeping Bag, acrylic, marker pen, canvas, pva, glitter, ribbon, stick, on plywood. 2013

Sodium Laureth Sulphate is the new exhibition by Leeds based artist Helen Dryden, consisting of lots of paintings and drawings and a digital projection at The Crooked House.

Helen’s process is spontaneous and instinctive, using media such as acrylics on canvas, boards and cardboard; watercolours, felt tip pens, ribbons and gems. Using imagery from her subconscious, intuitive mark making, and reacting to found pictures and music, Helen creates an uncertain world, sometimes confusing, wondering, atmospheric and difficult to identify.

Helen likes ambiguity, the absurd, humour, escapism, daydreaming, pop music, fashion, and cheap things.

Sodium laureth sulphate is an ingredient used in toiletries to make dreamy, foamy bubbles. It is produced in huge industrial quantities, it goes unnoticed, it makes a nice warm bath, and gives us clean teeth, and off we go.


Facebook event page:

For those seeking further clarification of my thinking as to why sodium laureth sulphate relates to this collection of artwork, please see below:


What’s the significance?

Sodium Laureth Sulphate is a surfactant, almost ubiquitous in its presence in toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products. It produces lather, and breaks up oily residue. Most of us don’t think about this ingredient, though it cleans us, and gives us bubbly pleasure in our baths.

Cleansing can be seen as a spiritual, transformative experience. It’s necessary to be clean for hygiene reasons, religious reasons, social acceptability, and sexual attractiveness. Cosmetics industries and spas have marketed washing our selves as a luxury event, and undoubtedly it can be a sensual and enjoyable one.

As an artist, I want to think about my experience of everyday life, as what I see and do affects my attitude and approach to art making. Everyday washing rituals are almost magical in their transcendental qualities; you change mental and physical state after experiencing heat, moisture, fragrance, cleanliness. You are relaxed, comfortable, perhaps more in tune with your subconscious and your body. For some, they are now ready to go and pray, whilst others have amazing ideas whilst standing in the shower, thinking.

My art comes from letting my mind wander, exploring materials and being guided by instinct, gut reaction, feelings, colour and texture. I made the connection with SLS as this is a substance that to me means frivolity, sensuality, and playfulness. It means to me being ‘in the zone’ to access the calm yet stimulated state of mind I need to work in.

There is an urban myth that SLS is carcinogenic. It’s not, though over exposure can lead to dry skin. I’m interested in the idea of imagined dangers in something most of us use everyday. This leads me to questions of taste:

Do people dislike SLS as a lifestyle choice or are there real concerns?

Are man made things always bad for us and the environment?

Is it a question of elitism; ie, buying ‘all natural’ cosmetics/toiletries as an affectation, showing off one’s sensitivity and consumer prowess?

What if I make art from deliberately low brow, non art materials, the kind that working class women use to bling up their mobile phones and decorate their children for dance class?

What does it say about me if I find beauty in garish colours and gold coloured chain?

Further info for soap enthusiasts:

Everyone should be aware that you don’t eat soap, and yet scaremongers are screaming about the toxicity of swallowing large amounts of toothpaste, which no one would actually do anyway. For example:

I don’t claim to know the ramifications of our culture’s dependence on SLS; I’m not a chemist or biologist. But I’m intrigued by the way people can make spurious scientific claims on the internet, often in order to sell their ‘natural’ products.

This aversion of the man made and misunderstanding of what a ‘chemical’ is ( ) is unscientific and misinformation on the part of the manufacturer it can lead to fear or snobbery on the part of the consumer.

(According to wikepedia some products containing SLS have been found to be contaminated with 1,4- dioxane which is carcinogenic. But that does not mean that all products containing SLS are carcinogenic. SLS itself is non carcinogenic.)

Sodium Laureth Sulphate is often confused with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, which in the late 1990’s was the subject of an urban myth spread via email, claiming that swallowing SLS in your toothpaste could kill you, and washing your hair in SLS-containing shampoo would give you cancer.


Fred Pepper is also exhibiting at the same time, in the same venue, so please come to see us both.

Here’s Fred’s Facebook event page:

The Gallery Is Now Closed is the new exhibition by Leeds-based artist Fred Pepper, appearing at the Crooked House for the first time. A display of his ongoing movie monster monoprint series will be accompanied by a loop of the video-collage Wastin’ Arrers and the sound piece Mr. Leech’s Institution by Lynden St. John for Octopus Collective, for which the artist provided voice performance.

Fred Pepper works in an illustrative style and within a narrative tradition. His practice centres on drawing and printmaking, but he also makes forays into the territories of performance, sculpture, digital media and painting.

He was born a Sagittarius on a Woden’s Day in a Year of the Wood Rabbit.


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