Meet the gallery: McKay Williamson

Richard Williamson, of gallery McKay Williamson, explains why discovering people’s personal stories is the secret to picking their perfect art

Richard, you are unusual in that you are an artist who also represents other artists through the gallery. Can you explain how this came about?  I just love creativity – making something original is a profoundly beautiful act. So I tend to bond with other artists. Early in my career, when potential clients asked about my work, occasionally I felt they really wanted something else, that wasn’t me. I’m not a painter, for instance. My medium is memory and metaphor through photo collage, so if I felt they were looking for an oil, I’d recommend a friend. And McKay Williamson was born. Now less than 5% of what we do is my work, but it’s my favourite 5%.

Art from McKay Williamson

What is the McKay Williamson ethos? Trying to ensure the work we do sings to the soul. For decades, as an icebreaker, I’d ask people about the favourite art they own and got quite revealing replies. People rarely mentioned their most expensive pieces, rather it was the art with the most personally meaningful stories. One day a penny dropped. What if we learn people’s stories first, then recommend art (whether that be mine or anyone else’s). So that’s our ethos. Getting to know people.

Of course, stories are only half of it. We also need to understand the sort of art they love. So we invented the Art I Love Review (AILR) an online ‘taste test’ which allows us to get an insight into the sort of art they’ll warm to.

By combining personal stories with their personal aesthetics, we’re able to recommend art very confidently.

How do you choose the artists you represent? Nobody eats at a Michelin-starred restaurant every night and nobody has the same budget for every piece of art. We represent a wide range of artists, from emerging and mid-career to established. Regarding key criteria, art should be a conversation piece; it’s the diamond in the setting of a well-designed home. We look for artists with a unique voice. I’m also partial to artists who enjoy taking commissions, as we’re often asked to create work for a specific size wall and it can save everyone a lot of time to create the work for the space.

Where can interior designers see your collection. As well as your gallery in West London, do you show at art fairs etc? Yes, we do.  In fact, our two shows in March this year reflects the whole spirit of our work.  On 5 of March, we’re starting a pop-up with Raffles in The Old War Office private residences. It’ll be on for two months and visiting is by appointment only, so ask people to contact Allyson at the gallery for details.  And from 6-10 March, we have a stand at the Affordable Art Fair. I can’t imagine many galleries span that sort of cultural divide, but it gives me a lot of joy that we do.

Richard Williamson of McKay Williamson

What can interior designers expect from McKay Williamson? Depending on the project, a decent finder’s fee with a steady flow of commissions. Although designers have a clear brief for palette, location, and size of art, the client usually has their own taste and budget in mind. Combining all that can be a headache for designers (who have enough on their plate). That’s why many designers encourage their clients to take the AILR. As compared to going to galleries or fairs, or trawling through websites, clients are enjoyably surprised at how quickly we can help them find art they love.  Which makes all our lives easier and, bluntly, more profitable. 

Designers can also expect a pretty dependable team. My other senior advisors, Jeff Nottingham and Allyson Bari-Guida, and most of the whole team, have worked together more than a decade. I think it’s reassuring to work with reliable people. 

What is your favourite possession? My beautiful smoke-blue, 70th anniversary, Vespa 300cc Granturismo – a collector’s classic. When I first moved to London, I loved everything but the public transport.  I bought my first Vespa in 1996 and have enjoyed smiling through the rain and mist for nearly 30 years of arriving to appointments on time.

The image at the top of this feature shows one of Richard’s collage memory pieces

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