International interior architecture firm, Duelle Studio, has been appointed by A.Gallo to design their first retail location in the Italian town of Assisi
Over a decade ago, artist Alina Gallo began to study the manuscript painting techniques and history of pigment. Her research included the Timurid, Byzantine, Safavid, and Ottoman miniature paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
The cross-cultural style these works of art possess spoke well to her, so much that the artist ventured into making her own paint. Today, her handmade watercolours are being sold in her artisan store A.Gallo Colors Shop, designed by Milan- and London-based studio Duelle.
The concept shop of Gallo is located in Assisi, Umbria, the birthplace of Saint Francis and home to some of the most revered fresco cycles by the great Italian master, Giotto. The artist calls the town a place of unique natural, spiritual, and artistic beauty, a seemingly obvious move to introduce her homemade paint to artists and creatives alike.
It is here where she continued to study the history of pigments from the Middle Ages and developed a series of handmade palettes with her husband, hoping to connect the artists to the roots and history of the art materials they are using.
In making her watercolours, Gallo discovered that traditional pigments were toxic and unstable. “After a long process of research and experimentation, we have formulated our recipes with the lightfast and environmentally friendly pigments available today to match historical pigments such as Vermilion, Carmine, and Verderame. All of our colours are mercury, lead, arsenic, cobalt, and cadmium free,” she writes.
The resulting watercolours are mulled by hand on a glass slab and crafted based on a traditional recipe of raw pigments. Gallo and her team extract the paint binder from the pure lumps of Kordofan gum arabic from the Acacia Senegal tree and dissolve it in distilled water for around 24 to 36 hours. Then, they filter the mixture by hand two to three times to ensure the absence of plant matter and impurities before they add glycerine as the plasticiser to prevent the formation of cracks when the paint dries.
To complete their recipe, they add rosemary essential oil, and a dose of local honey from Umbria. “Honey is added to help the paints retain water and increase their longevity,” writes Gallo. Once all the paint is mulled, the team transfers the mixtures from the glass slab into a jar and set them aside to let the pigment stabilise with the binder.
The last step is to pour the paint into their block cases by hand, refilling the container several times as they dry over the course of four to five weeks. Gallo and her team create the paint in limited quantities which usually sell out in a few hours.
The rawness of Gallo’s watercolours is underlined by the design of the concept store, thanks to Melanie Liaw and Micaela Nardella of Duelle Studio who shared Gallo’s vision as an artist. They curate interiors for the culturally curious and do so in a way that respects and amplifies the vision of their clients, just as they did for A.Gallo Colors Shop.
As an artist herself, Gallo reveres the materials she uses in her paintings and the ingredients that make up her watercolours. Liaw and Nardella acknowledged this and paid attention to the shop’s colours and surroundings. They hoped to retain the classic look of the timber entrance and the cream and burgundy tile floor by shading the interior with soft lavender, a reference to Umbria’s lavender fields.
Liaw and Nardella researched the history of paint supply shops in Italy and discovered spaces full of objects and materials, all placed on some timber platform. The study inspired them to install wooden shelves in the concept store. They also marvelled at how Gallo transforms raw pigments into blocks of artisan-made watercolours and highlighted these by placing the powdered pigments in transparent jars.
Melanie Liaw and Micaela Nardella visualised a gallery when collaborating with Alina Gallo for the interior. The outcome gives more than that as the store now easily refers to the art shops in history, and features the watercolours of A.Gallo Colors Shop.
Images by Jacopo Bille
As featured in OnOffice 160, Autumn 2022. Read a digital version of the issue for free here