Art: I'm Tim and I'm an artoholic

It started with one watercolour. Twenty-five years on, every inch of Tim Sayer's small home is covered in works of art, from a Hockney in the loo to tribal figures in the fireplace. Just don't ask him about his overdraft ... By John Windsor. Photographs by Oscar Paisley

Most Brits would rather buy a new car or a carpet than a work of art. Not so, Tim Sayer, a 53-year-old BBC radio news journalist, who spends pounds 12,000 or more in a single year on artworks and is constantly in debt. He owes monthly part-payments of pounds 150 to pounds 200 to each of half-a-dozen art galleries. He is even working for free at next week's annual contemporary art fair, ART99.

Sayer will be in his element as an unpaid assistant for Blond Fine Art, one of his favourite gallerists. For him, five days of immersion among the exhibition's thousands of pictures and sculptures is the only form of narcosis capable of tempting him away from his own collection - 300 contemporary artworks that fill every inch of the walls and shelves in his two-floor flat in Highbury, north London. Having done a deal, he will pace around the flat with his new acquisition under his arm, looking a little demented, trying to find somewhere to stash it. He has resorted to hanging paintings on the ceiling.

There are Hockney and Tapies prints in the lavatory, a tiny Arthur Boyd landscape on the stairs, erotic Eileen Coopers in the bedroom and, in the sitting room, two elemental Ewen Hendersons beside three abstract Gordon Baldwin ceramics. A charcoal nude and a bright landscape by his late friend, William Mills, face each other across the room, tribal figures from Papua New Guinea stand in the fireplace, and a whirring automaton with gyrating telescope by Tim Lewis surveys the room from a corner. "It is a little crowded," he says.

The carpet is a slightly worn. He could easily sell a painting to pay for a new one. But he says, "Sod the carpet. And sod redecorating the outside of the house. Thank god, at least the roof's solid.

"If I see something I like I convince myself that I can afford it - even if it means not paying the water bill. I tell myself, stop being so bloody mean. Buy the stuff. I get so irritated by people who say that art is expensive. It is, but not compared with other things. They spend money on, say, an off-the-road vehicle, which will be a pile of rust in a few years' time. But I will still have my art."

His taste has become more abstract since his first purchase 25 years ago, a John Nash watercolour. But he clearly has an eclectic eye. Although he owns several drawings by Prunella Clough, several abstract oils by Maurice Cockrill, several Coopers and a host of Mills, most of the 120 artists in his collection are represented by a single artwork.

In the early Eighties, he started going for colour. Such are the vagaries of taste. Apart from that, what makes an artwork irresistible to him? "It's got to appeal to the head, heart and balls," he says. No mystery there, then.

Of the three standard rules for private collectors, he obeys two: see a lot of art, and get to know the artists. The third - take your time - he ignores. "I can't bear people who faff about and insist on seeing a picture six times. In any case, if you hesitate, then go back expecting to buy, in 80 per cent of the cases the painting has been sold."

When I met him, he had just returned from lunch with his bank manager. But he was far from hangdog. He had paid for the lunch, and the bank manager had seen his collection - and its potential as collateral. It is now worth about pounds 250,000. What did he pay for it? "God knows; I've never added it up."

In the past, when he has received letters from the bank about his overdraft, he has replied that he is about to sell some paintings. The overdraft is converted into a bank loan, the financial storm clouds gradually disperse - and the paintings remain unsold. "I do get sleepless nights and I do get nagged by Annemarie, my girlfriend. But so far I have avoided bankruptcy."

He buys only from "sympathetic" galleries - those that, unlike auction houses, will allow him time to pay. "Sometimes I am lucky enough to be offered a discount as well. If I buy direct from an artist's studio I always give them the price they ask, even if I have to pay over time - after all, they are not financially cushioned like galleries."

He fetches out a cardboard box. Frequent use has given it a patina of fingerprints. This is his file of gallery bills, recording his part-payments. "I hate this thing," he says. Among its contents, an account rendered by the Fischer Fine Art Gallery, acknowledging the last of his 24 monthly instalments for the Australian Arthur Boyd's little oil on board, River Landscape No. 3 of 1991 - a total of pounds 3,701.25 including 10 per cent discount. A sympathetic gallerist has scrawled a sigh of relief, "Aaaahhhh", across the account. During the repayment period it felt more like "Aaaarrrgggghh!"

Sympathetic galleries? Besides Fischer, Sayer buys from Blond Fine Art, Annely Juda, Art First, Austin Desmond, Purdy Hicks, Art Space, the Hart Gallery, the Belgrave Gallery, Flowers East, Graham Paton and Jason & Rhodes.

Does he buy for investment? "It's never entered my head. If it did, it would ruin the enjoyment. However, I'm sure I've never paid over the odds for anything"

ART99, 20-24 January, Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, London N1 (0171-359 3535).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

    £23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

    Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

    £15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

    Day In a Page

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
    Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

    Escape from Everest base camp

    Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
    Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

    What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

    Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
    Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

    Gossip girl comes of age

    Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
    Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

    Goat cuisine

    It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
    14 best coat hooks

    Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

    Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?