Will Ramsay will never forget his first time. She was a beautiful canvas he spied in a street market; he was a lowly university student on holiday in Moscow. But he had to have her: her rich ochers and oranges, the way she made him think of Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus. Though his tastes have since changed, he kept her around, stashed in the attic like Mrs. Rochester.
He just couldn’t part with his first piece of art.
Since then, Ramsay, a London-based gallerist, has made it a personal mission to make art more accessible—to teach people that one needn’t take out a second mortgage to buy a painting. “It gives me huge pleasure to see an artist live off of his or her work, and connecting them with people who didn’t realize they could afford art or were intimidated by their lack of knowledge,” Ramsay said. “It’s all about being inclusive.” In 1999 he launched his first Affordable Art Fair in London; three continents and 14 cities later, it makes its Northwest debut. Nearly 50 galleries have been selected by anonymous curators with guidance from local advisors—Seattle art fair director Jennifer Jacobs, Margery Aronson, Jaq Chartier, and gallery owners James Harris and Prole Drift’s Dirk Park—to show works that range in price from $100 to $10,000, and cost $2,500 on average. Artists span the I-5 corridor from Portland to Vancouver, BC, with several international names in the mix.
And in case you were wondering: No, affordable isn’t code for “lousy.” Big-deal Seattle sculptor Jeffry Mitchell, whose gleefully subversive ceramics piled high with puppies and flowers are on display at the Henry Art Gallery, will sell his wares; so will mixed-media artist Victoria Haven, who currently has a one-woman show at Seattle Art Museum. At past fairs around the world, the artwork reflected the city’s gallery scene; Paris had an influx of urban and street art in 2010, New York a $1,500 Damien Hirst woodcut. Seattle’s event is no different. With much of the Seattle Art Dealers Association showing alongside newer spots like Prole Drift, the fair offers a crash course in contemporary Northwest art. Novices will learn the identity of renowned Washington painter Gaylen Hansen, and savvy shoppers will pick up one of his lonesome cowboy or wolf-dog canvases for a bargain.
Seattle is just the third city in the U.S. (after New York and Los Angeles) to host an Affordable Art Fair—thanks to the strength of our galleries—and Ramsay hopes to make it an annual event. That all depends on whether enough people fall in love for the first, or fiftieth, time.