Are you looking at my bra?*

I have been painting quite a lot. LOADS actually, and there are loads of pieces that I haven’t managed to post here yet, as I’ve been so very busy making them!

Here’s a selection of my favourites below, but for a more comprehensive view, take a look in my gallery here.

These last two weeks I have been focused on painting women’s underwear, which interests me because on the one hand underwear is practical and private, yet on the other it can be so flamboyant and erotic. I was inspired by the multitude of aspirational underwear photography on Pintrest and Instagram, and the comments by women that desired these garments. I’m interested in the fact that people will spend a lot of money on clothing that only they and their lover will see. I’m also interested in the function of bras and the freedom of movement that they give to women, particularly large breasted or very active women.

Bras in particular have symbolic meaning in terms of feminism also. The ‘bra burning’ feminist has been a figure of ridicule, despite the fact that the famous burning of bras event of 1968 didn’t actually happen.

“Bras were just one of the items protestors were encouraged to bring that day that signified how the male-dominated culture was keeping women locked into rigid ideas of beauty, but they weren’t burned. Starting a fire on the boardwalk was illegal, so protestors opted to Playboy magazines and other items in a Freedom Trash Can. Still, the bra-burning image remained—a symbol that was easy to belittle as women focusing on something trivial. Misinformation and myths sometimes serve as placeholders in our memory when facts are not remembered.” Jennifer Lee, June 2014.

What does it mean to a feminist artist like myself, to paint bras/underwear, that one could argue exist for sexual titilation? Do images of sensual underwear undermine womens’ power, and objectify them? Or is celebrating a woman’s sexuality and recognising her physical beauty a positive thing?

I have been thinking for a while about nudity and nakedness, with particular reference to the old art-school standard reading ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger. Partially clothing a female figure, with underwear, or nothing but a pair of high heels is more erotically charged than the pure naked physical form. Drawing from life (naked models) is assumed to be required for all artists to become good at drawing and seeing. In recent years I have been to a few ‘burlesque life drawing’ events, which were much less revealing of the models’ bodies, and yet were seen as scandalous and shameful by one or two artist’s models I spoke to. They thought that the burlesque artists were sexualising the life drawing event and making it a disreputable profession, one step away from prostitution. And all because they had saucy undies on.

*‘Are you looking at my bra?’


I’ve also been inspired to paint from some of my own photos of trees and nature, as I really enjoy the abstract forms that branches take, and the melancholy nature of winter and bare, snow covered tree limbs. Although it’s April, I woke up today to frost, and yesterday there were snow and hail showers, so winter doesn’t feel like it has quite left us here in West Yorkshire.

Walking home in the snow at night II, Helen Dryden 2016
Walking home in the snow at night II
2 NIKE sports bras -  Helen Dryden 2016
NIKE sports bras
Coral lace bra and knickers - Helen Dryden 2016
Coral lace bra and knickers
M&S underwired cream floral lace bra - Helen Dryden 2016
M&S underwired cream floral lace bra
Peach lace bra - Helen Dryden 2016
peach lace bra
Woman in red underwear and fur coat - Helen Dryden 2016
Woman in red underwear and fur coat
Paul's Pond, frozen over - Helen Dryden 2016
Paul’s Pond frozen over

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