Janine Dello

Solo Exhibitions

Inhabit, Lethbridge Gallery, Brisbane, 14 - 25 May 2021

Artist Statement:  Drawn to the beauty of everyday rituals, this body of work, Inhabit, plays upon the feminine in domesticity through a series of intimate moments.  Pastel coloured hues and playful narratives show these characters caught in a liminal space between longing and contentedness.

Inspired by domestic subject matter and covetable objects, this work explores ambiguous emotions in the search for beauty, pleasure, and perfection whilst giving prominence to the things we crave.

To read an exhibition essay by curator and writer, Eleanor Scicchitano, please scroll to the bottom of this page.

Balance, oil on linen, 71 x 73cm

Bloom, oil on linen, 66 x 76cm

Juggle, oil on linen, 56 x 71cm

Dream, oil on linen, 71 x 82cm

Drizzle, oil on linen, 76 x 84cm

Peel, oil on linen, 82 x 71cm

Stir, oil on linen, 76 x 101cm

Toast, oil on linen, 82 x cm

Desire, oil on linen, 84 x 76cm

Exhibition Companion Essay

Janine Dello’s new body of work Inhabit continues her exploration of femininity and the search for beauty and pleasure, presenting women navigating their domestic spaces. Lockdowns brought on by the pandemic in 2020 have meant everyone has spent an increased amount of time at home, either on their own or with family or friends. For many, this has changed our relationship with these spaces, and the others who inhabit them. Dello’s women are alone, navigating the space between comfort and claustrophobia, longing for company and contentedness in the peace of being alone.  

In each image, Dello’s women are taking part in rituals of self-care as they negotiate their isolation. Some of these acts tend toward the practical; eating, cooking and cleaning. While others seem indulgent: a hot bath, elaborately decorating a cake that the viewer can only assume will be eaten alone. Other women seem to combine the two; buttering toast, but in a new, red dress, tag still hanging from the back. In Drizzle, the woman’s wrist is held aloft but relaxed as she lets the last of the icing fall from her spoon onto her cake, the container tipped over next to the stand. No effort seems to have been made to clean up, this is her space and she is doing as she pleases. A pink, clawed bathtub in a purple blue bathroom is the setting for Shave. A woman is reclining in the bath, her face hidden by a grey and yellow striped shower curtain. She uses one hand to shave her legs, while her other hand holds delicate macarons that she seems to be bringing to her mouth. For some of them, they seem relaxed in their isolation. They have found peace or comfort away from the pressures of the outside world, creating a bubble around themselves.

But all is not relaxed, there are small moments of tension.  Plan depicts a woman curled on a comfy arm chair, reading a book. The roundness of the chair is mimicked in the roundness of the vase that sits on the side table, the soft curves of the onion on the front of what I assume is a recipe book, perhaps by Ottolenghi, bringing up memories of cooking, spending time with simple ingredients. The warm brown of the chair moves into the soft, orange glow of the wall behind her. The white shirt, pants and shoes complement the cover of the book and the curved, elegant vase and flowers on the stand beside her. She is curled up, replicating the shape of the vase with her body. She is tied into environment, part of it, and appears to sit comfortably within it as she undertakes the planning of meals, perhaps as an indulgent time to spend with herself that night, or perhaps planning for the week, to minimise her time outside in a world that has turned hostile and imposing. Balanced carefully on the woman’s knee is a cup, that looks to hold a hot tea. One can imagine that if she shifts slightly, the scalding liquid will run down her leg and stain the pristine clothing. This tension speaks to the balance these women are negotiating in their new normal.

Dello creates comforting, meditative worlds for her women to inhabit. She works with a restricted pastel palette, in some images rendering her homes in multiple shades of only two or three colours. These pristine spaces, minimal in their decoration, speak to order and calm. Like her palette, these spaces are uncluttered, and free from the mess of work and life outside the home. They are self-contained, like the women themselves. Peel shows a woman lying on her bed, peeling an orange as her four-legged friend watches hungrily. She wears soft white pyjamas, and lies on crisp white sheets, crumpled slightly where she has moved across them. The head board is white, and the bed is pushed against an off-white wall, some of which lies in shadow. The overall feeling is one of cohesion, she belongs in this space as she visually fits within it. The bowl of oranges on the bed, an eye-catching splash of colour amongst the white, draws our focus, a bright point in a room of subtle changes. Using a sfumato painting technique, she blends the edges of her figures, allowing them to inhabit the space fully. To the viewer the image is smooth, the colours transitioning one to another. Each element in the work blends, creating an overall sense of cohesion and belonging.  

Each subject seems lost in their own world, navigating the domestic space without the input of others. They exclude the audience, turning their heads way from the outside world, covering their faces or hiding behind curtains or other objects. Where we do catch a glimpse of their faces, they feel like they are torn between wanting to escape and a desire to remain. In Toast Dello’s subject butters her breakfast, begrudgingly undertaking the important task of eating. She does this in a red dress, dressed more for a club than a kitchen. And though we see her face, she does not look at us. Gazing into the middle distance, she looks outside the home, signalling her desire to leave. In this way, Dello tells her viewer that these are solo pursuits, the women exist wholly within themselves and their homes, though not all of them are happy to be there. This is their exploration, and it is up to them how they find a balance.

Inhabit shows portraits of women finding their place, learning for themselves to exist in a space that they cannot leave. They oscillate between relaxation and tension, feeling at home and at odds with their surroundings. They treat themselves with cakes and cookies, while appearing to yearn to escape, dressing for nights out on the town. This balance is one we have all had to seek in the past year as we have been confined to our homes. And now, as we come out of this time, and world continues to open up and return to the way it was before, we are negotiating anew. This is an ongoing investigation as our relationship to space and home is again reimagined. Dello continues to explore the tension between loneliness and self-sufficiency, beauty and perfection. It can only be imagined what will be next for her, as these pursuits and concerns are re-evaluated as we come out the other side.

Eleanor Scicchitano is an independant curator and writer based in Adelaide, South Australia.