was rather hard to imagine quite what kind of man to expect when we met Will Ramsay,. All Coco and I knew is that he is a father of four, an ex-service man (he served in the British Army for five years until 1996, leaving as a Captain in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) and he's the Founder of The Affordable Art Fair, which arrives in Hong Kong for the first time from March 15th to 17th. What I was not expecting was to interview a man with humour and sincerity in abundance, diamantĂŠ studded spectacles, Barbara Cartland-esque pink shirt and socks, and all during a thrilling Turner Prize-winning style installation work. (The original was created by Martin Creed in 2001, for which he won the ÂŁ20,000 prize. Here, courtesy of The Space and HK Electric, the lights went on, then off, then on again and off. Eventually the press conference he was holding after our interview, had to be moved to The Cat Street Gallery, next door). My first question was "After the army, why art?" Ramsay explained that he had always had an interest in art, starting as a schoolboy, after encouragement from an inspirational art teacher. On leave from the army in the early 1990s, he would go to London and visit galleries and became increasingly unhappy with the experience he had in return for his time and attention to these institutions. "I felt I wasn't being catered for. Yes, I looked like a scruffy student going into these galleries, but they should have treated me as a customer of the future, help me learn more and engage with me, and I just didn't get that. I thought this is so wrong...this is the most backward of retailing sectors!" Ramsay saw that there was the possibility of a connection between the way that wine and art was sold. 30 years ago in the UK, and much more recently than that in Hong Kong, wine appreciation was perceived as something elitist, a pursuit for the rich and initiated, which shunned the inexperienced general population through unhelpful and uninformative retailing practice. Wine cellars were stocked by merchants who were not interested in someone who wanted to try a bottle, perhaps for the first time. They certainly were not going to let you try a sip before you did. There was little information available about the various kinds of grapes, labels tended to be written exclusively in the language of the producing country, and even if you could read French, German or Spanish, there tended to be no description about the product on the bottle anyway. You just had to know. Â Ramsay recognised that. "Art and wine are both areas where people are embarrassed if they don't know about it. And where do they start?" Wine retailing was changed by the approach of Sheldon Graner and his Majestic Vintners, which opened its first warehouse in Harringay, North London, getting around the antiquated and restrictive licensing laws in the UK, which only permitted alcohol to be purchased during certain hours during the day, by offering wine in cases (12 bottles). Through his passion for wine, Graner innovated informative labelling and offered a free tasting service to his customers. It was a friendly, engaging place which pioneered the transformation of winedrinking as a preserve of the rare connoisseur into the democracy of the widely-enjoyed and accessible pastime it is today. Ramsay believed that if it could be done with wine, it should be do-able with art.
KEE Magazine March 2013