Name: Will Ramsay
Year started collecting: 1988
Number of artworks in collection: 130
Will Ramsay is the entrepreneurial Head Honcho, Founder and CEO of the Affordable Art Fair and Ramsay Fairs. Will started the Affordable Art Fairs almost 20 years ago with a mission to make art more accessible and has since seen his passion project grow into 13 art fairs across 9 countries. Still as enthusiastic about art to this day, we interviewed Will about his journey as a collector.
Interview with art collector Will Ramsay:
What is the very first item you purchased/wanted to purchase? What drew you to it?
I bought my first piece in Moscow when I was 19, it was a painting of three Russian men drinking vodka and chewing the cud that I was drawn to because of its paint strokes which reminded me of Lucien Freud’s work, palette and subject matter; it really all sprang from there. Since then I have visited hundreds of galleries, auctions and art fairs which has helped me to refine my taste, and I have come to appreciate and look for true quality in art.
What styles/mediums are you most attracted to?
My collection ranges from traditional oil paintings through photography and printmaking, to digital art pieces, and stylistically from landscapes to abstract - particularly those with good composition, originality and wit. I buy too much but just can’t rein in my passion! I’m fascinated by the stories behind each piece – they bring the work to life. Every art enthusiast finds their own personal style, but I don’t think you should restrict yourself to collecting within particular genres.
Would you call yourself a collector or a passionate owner?
I’m both! In a rather unconventional start, my career started in the British army in the early 1990s buy my first foray into the art world was in 1996 when I launched my own gallery, Will’s Art Warehouse, with the aim of making art more accessible. I wanted to help people enjoy learning more about art and breakdown any misconceptions around collecting art.
People can feel that they aren’t knowledgeable enough about art to consider buying it, and this may make going into certain galleries daunting, but at the Affordable Art Fair we feel strongly that you shouldn’t have to be an expert to enjoy and own original contemporary art. If you don’t fully understand a piece of art but it has piqued your interest, don’t be afraid to ask the gallerist to tell you more about the piece or the artist – most galleries are run by are passionate art lovers who would be delighted to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with you.
Is there a piece in your collection you can’t live without?
There are two personal pieces which would be the first to save from a fire - our family portrait by Maisie Broadhead and a portrait of my grandfather, Admiral Ramsay, who commanded the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day landings.
Are you drawn to up-and-coming artists or established names?
The vast majority of works in my collection are by unknown professional artists, but I do own a Marc Quinn photograph installed in my bathroom and a print by Louise Bourgeois. Much of her work incorporates a sense of vulnerability and fragility, and my print is no exception. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy great art, just ask yourself - do I love this piece, and how can I display it?
How has your taste changed since you started collecting?
I have definitely become more experimental in my tastes. Like so many people, at the start I collected some fantastic paintings and prints. Now my collection is very eclectic and spontaneous, it includes multi-media works such as a video installation by Gery Georgieva, from the Royal Academy Schools called Isolabella L’Aquarimosa which I have installed outdoors, mounted in a grove of trees – the artist helped me choose the spot. It’s a brilliant talking point and the setting adds another layer to the piece.
What is the main motivation behind your collecting?
I am hugely passionate about supporting the art ecosystem. The family of galleries that we work with are experts in their field who have an enormous amount of knowledge on the 1000’s of contemporary artists that they represent. Affordable Art Fairs give our galleries a platform to connect art with art lovers.
As a part of this ecosystem it’s important for first time buyers to feel welcome; a couple buying their first piece may well go on to become a gallery’s key collector of the future. Nurturing this new generation of collectors is crucial to ensuring our galleries and their artists can continue to make a living doing what they love.
Last year we launched our brand-new online marketplace which has helped to develop the ecosystem further. Now, affordable art fans can buy original art online from a curated collection of the UK’s top galleries, and hundreds of established and emerging contemporary artists. I’m really excited that the platform takes the democratisation of the art world one step further – instantly connecting visitors with a wide variety of fantastic artistic talent.
In your opinion, what is the role of an art collector in the career of artists?
Art collectors and artists have a symbiotic relationship. Collectors are the champions of an artist’s career; following and buying the artists work as they progress. It’s one of the reasons that all Affordable Art Fairs have Recent Graduates or Young Talent exhibitions as a part of their programmes and over the years we’ve featured some fabulous works by emerging artists which I couldn't resist adding to my collection, including a camel named Bernard by Josh Gluckstein, Clarice (from the film Silence of the Lambs) by Maria von Kohler and Give Us A Smile Love, by Ren Aldridge.
What will you do when your walls are full?
Build more walls!
Any top tips for new collectors?
Research artists you are interested in online, make sure you visit art fairs and galleries, and talk to the experts about any questions you have – they are there to help! But, my number one tip is to buy with your heart, then you can be sure that you will enjoy the piece you are taking home for years to come. The decision to buy art has often been likened to falling in love – enjoy it!
Three artists you have seen grow through the fairs?
There have been so many emerging artists at the fairs that have gone on to become household names. Some lucky visitors have bought works by the likes of Anthony Micallef and Andrew Salgado whose works have risen in value and no longer fit within our price range, which his fantastic for those artists and their collectors, and we’re really proud to have played our part in their journey.
However, the biggest myth is that being an art collector is reserved for the super wealthy. Art by emerging or mid-career artists can be very affordable - etchings and screenprints are a great place to start if your budget is small, but there are works by some extraordinary artists (including household names) available at the fair from a few hundred pounds.
Ramsay family portrait, Maisie Broadhead, photograph, Will Ramsay private collection.
Featured images from first to last:
Untitled (Will Ramsay's first artwork purchase), artist unknown, 1988, oil on canvas, Will Ramsay private collection.
Will Ramsay at Affordable Art Fair Battersea Autumn 2016.
Untitled, Louise Bourgeois, lithograph on paper, Will Ramsay private collection.
Image of artist Gery Georgieva, besides her work Isolabella L’Aquarimosa, video, Will Ramsay private collection.
Clarice, Maria von Kohler, fibreglass, Will Ramsay private collection.