An interview with Will Ramsay, Founder of Affordable Art Fair
Who is Will Ramsay? Why and how did you enter the art world?
I began my career serving in the British Army for five years, but it was actually following a negative art gallery experience in the mid-90s that I became keenly aware of a commercial gap within the contemporary art world. I was amazed at the frosty reception and lack of advice I received.
Soon after, I set out to challenge the entrenched-norms and my gallery, Will’s Art Warehouse, was born.
This led on to the creation of the first Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park, South London in 1999 (More or less at the same time Martin Miller was launching Martin Miller’s Gin in Notting Hill).
Fast forward twenty-one years to 2021, and I am now at the helm of 13 annual art fairs in 10 cities across the globe. In 2016 we launched the Affordable Art Fair online marketplace which allows art-lovers to browse and buy affordable art 365 days a year.
I’ve always loved art. Although I’m a geography graduate, my passion has always been art, originally developed by an inspirational art teacher at school. I bought my first piece of art in Moscow in 1990, which has since grown to an eclectic collection of all different shapes and sizes, not forgetting an eight-foot polystyrene rapper!
Was it your dream to create an art fair or did it happen by surprise?
Originally my dream was not only to set up one Will’s Art Warehouse, but to set up multiple galleries, all in the name of ‘democratising’ the art world. However, when I had a really positive response to Will’s Art Warehouse being such an informal atmosphere in which to browse and buy art, I decided to do it on a bigger scale and launched the first Affordable Art Fair.
My mission hasn’t changed though, it has always been to make art accessible and affordable to all. I wanted to break down the perceived barriers of the art world and give people the opportunity to enjoy and collect art in a fun and inviting atmosphere. I also wanted people to realise that you don’t have to be an expert or a squillionaire to buy art.
How many people told you that you were "mad" and tried to convince you that you were taking a risky path when you wanted to follow those dreams?
I posted my business plan to one gallery owner who I knew. When I went to see him to receive his feedback, he threw It on the coffee table in front of us saying "It'll never work."
I was perhaps mad to risk all I had at the time; I obtained an overdraft of £100,000, secured against my assets. I was at a nail-biting £96,000 before it started coming down again!
We had a discussion about 'From Madness To Genius: The Artistic Process' in the context of the AAF 's Online Fair and we saw similarities in the way we work in business, as artists and entrepreneurs. Do you see yourself as an 'artistic businessman', or as having the soul of an artist as we see Martin Miller looking back?
A bit of both; I studied fine art and art history; I love art and talking to artists. I love enriching lives through art and the joy of someone buying their first piece. I love helping artists to flourish and thrive, helping the galleries who represent them, and helping new buyers start collecting. I love that the Affordable Art Fair has actively contributed to the art-ecosystem for twenty-one years and counting.
Both artists and entrepreneurs need an ongoing flow of creativity, which is what I love. New ideas are my fuel.
Martin Miller's dream took him to Iceland in search of the purest water to make the best gin. Has your dream also taken you to far off places or situations that didn't expect ... (where?)
I’m proud to have taken the Affordable Art Fair around the world, first to New York, then from Hampstead, Hamburg and Hong Kong, on to Stockholm, Singapore, and Sydney is in our sights for 2022! On the way I have learned how taste differs, and how buying triggers differ internationally. It continues to be an immensely exciting and rewarding voyage of discovery.
Each fair has a distinct character and feel whilst offering a diversity of tastes and styles. We take our lead from the local galleries and ensure that in each location we have a team on the ground who understands the local market. It’s not about us parachuting in an Affordable Art Fair; we aim to create a vibrant and welcoming setting for the best local and international art to be showcased to the local audience. What remains constant globally is the emphasis on accessibility, education, and enjoyment - a fun day out surrounded by great art.
What else do you think you have in common with Martin Miller?
If money were no object, one of the artworks I would love to own The Wanderer above a Sea of Clouds by the German painter Caspar David Friedrich - it has long inspired me and when I need motivation it reminds me that entrepreneurial ambition and determination will always succeed. I recognise a similar ambition in myself and also in Martin Miller’s entrepreneurial journey.
What's the most "madness" you've ever put into reaching a goal? Did it produce a genius result?
Four years ago, aged 48, I qualified as an amateur jockey, beating people less than half my age in the course's fitness test; this had required a lot of fitness work in advance. Aged 50 I did an 8-minute plank and this year did 104 press ups (2 for each year - how long can I keep that up?).
In the last 4 years I have also completed the amateur race over the Grand National fences at Aintree and raced in front of 65,000 people at the Cheltenham Festival.
Wow! Will, those are quite some feats!
We hope that you will soon add to those the fact that you have become a Martin Miller’s Gin aficionado and genius. Thanks for joining us!
If you want to discover more about Affordable Art Fair follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Martin Miller’s Gin is widely recognized as the world’s first ‘super premium’ gin. It has consistently won more awards for excellence in the world’s leading spirit competitions than any other gin in the last 15 years.