Charles Saatchi: You Ask The Questions

So, Charles Saatchi, was Damien Hirst right to call you an art shopaholic? How would you rebrand Gordon Brown? Why are you so reclusive? What's Nigella's cooking really like? And what's the point of art, anyway?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Your first wife is on record as saying that she only ever saw you reading comic books. Have you ever actually read a book? And if so, what was it? JOHANN WITT, by e-mail

Are you asking if I'm thick? I suppose I am rather, but that doesn't seem to hamper a career in advertising. And obviously, you can be as thick as a plank to buy art all day long.

How would you rebrand Gordon Brown? DANNY MORRIS, Manchester

His brand is flawless in its clarity, just like Kellogg's All Bran. You know exactly what you're going to get with Gordon Brown.

If you were commissioning your own portrait, in which medium would be choose to be represented? EDWARD MAKIN, Bath

I'd rather eat the canvas than have someone paint me on it.

You were born in Baghdad. What's your view on the war and the suffering of the Iraqi people since Blair and Bush decided to invade? IRENE SVENSSON by e-mail

Saddam was obviously a grisly psychopath, but there are so many vile butchers running bits of the world, why pick on him? Either kill them all, and let the CIA run the world, or leave the Saddams alone to torture and kill their own people. You choose. Just please don't say the UN, they never do anything but cluck.

Can you tell me anything about yourself that might make me like you? TESSA CORBYN, by e-mail

But why would I care whether you like me?

What makes you laugh? JULIA QUIN, Sheffield

Do you think me glum because I always look cross in press photos? I'm sorry, it's just the way my face sets. But I always think that people with little sense of humour laugh most easily. Just sit in a theatre during a play critics call "screamingly funny" and as soon as the curtain opens and the lead steps on to the stage set, pours himself a glass of whisky and coughs, the audience starts guffawing. They are there to have a good time, and their happy laughter mode is on full-beam. I, sadly, often find the entire experience "screamingly dull" and sit barely managing a thin smile. But Nigella is very funny, and we have a handsome collection of friends who all seem to be either journalists or comedians, so I do in fact spend a good deal of my life in giggling fits, honking away like a mad thing.

Why has Damien Hirst lost his inspiration? RAUL ZE, by e mail

He is a deeply gifted artist, a genius among us, but he's had a bad run of shows over the past few years. All great artists have an off patch, and he's having his. Usually when that happens, artists try too hard and the results look effortful and overblown. But I'm sure his next show will be a winner.

Damien Hirst called you an art shopaholic. Was he right? TANIA RYLE-BLAKE, London

Too right.

What is it like being married to the most desirable woman on the planet? JOHN JUKES, by e-mail

Unbelievable - literally. Women are all a little deranged, everybody knows that, but why Nigella would wish to be with me is beyond human understanding. My bleating gratitude perhaps, surely the world's most effective aphrodisiac.

Is it not just vulgar to spend ten times the value of an artwork just to make sure you get your hands on it? NADINE FRENETTE, by e-mail

It is very vulgar, and I wish I had a more genteel, and cheaper, way of getting the pictures I want. But they are usually owned by very rich people who are often greedy.

What's the point of art? MATT SCOTT, London

To stop our eyeballs going into meltdown from all the rubbish TV and films we happily look at the rest of the time.

On finding an artist that you love, do you set limits on the number of pieces from that artist you will buy (please make an assumption that budget is a factor, particularly as it means other options are then limited)? ALISON MACLENNAN QC, by e-mail

There isn't a useful guideline I can think of. But a home full of the work of one favourite artist is often more interesting than a scatter-gun approach. Our house is usually full of Paula Rego pictures, but often as not it's just messy stacks of paintings I'm too lazy to hang, with empty walls and nails poking out when the Regos go off to some exhibition somewhere.

I'd happily pay good money to see the charred remains of your unfortunate warehouse on display in your gallery. Have you any plans in this regard? CHRISTOPH ALEXANDER, London SW19

I assure you that the art inside the warehouse was more fun to look at than the charred remains. But there's always a fire somewhere if you like looking at burnt-out buildings.

Does refurbishing Damien Hirst's rotting shark rob it of its meaning as art? MARTA DEVERT, Copenhagen


Is London still at the cutting edge of world art? PATRICK VAIZEY, Cambridge

Yes it is. London is alone in breeding artists who organise their own alternative exhibitions in temporary spaces they commandeer - empty factories, offices, shops - and beat the dealers at showing the freshest art around. There are so many galleries in New York, it's probably easier for artists there to find dealers prepared to show new work by unknowns.

Are you really hoping to find the next Emin or Hirst when - as you recently said - you hunt for art in grotty parts of London at weekends? JACOB PURCELL, Belfast

If you don't live in hope, why get up of a morning? Is a dashed hope better than no hope? Must I always answer a question with a question?

With your former adman's hat on for a moment, would you say that David Cameron has the X-factor? D SHAHIN, London

I'd rather have Simon Cowell.

The artist Peter Blake has called you a "malign influence" because of the way you can "make" certain artists. Are you a malign influence? MAX KENNEDY, Hertfordshire

I wonder whether Peter Blake would consider me a less malign influence if I had bought some of his art. I try not to chew my nails down to the quick worrying about everything I do, otherwise I'd end up doing nothing.

Is there any artist you regret failing to snap up before they became famous? JACKSON AMES, Boston

Vermeer, Velazquez, Van Gogh. And that's just the Vs.

The visual arts leave me cold. I just don't get it. Where am I going wrong? KATE GRIMSHAW, by e-mail

Don't fret about it. I don't care about ballet leaving me cold. Or most films. Or nearly all theatre. There aren't enough hours in the day for all the things we do love to do, without looking for ways to force-feed yourself something that you just don't respond to.

Your USA Today show is already causing a fuss because of works like Terence Koh's Peeing Madonna. Why do you rate work with this kind of offensive shock value as "exciting"? VANORA PETERSON, Oxford

Many of the artists who we see in the National Gallery or the Louvre or the Uffizi were considered offensive or shocking once. I like all kinds of art, some of which is pretty boorish I grant you, but please be my guest at USA Today, and leave me a note if you think that anything there is truly more tasteless than so much we see around us every day.

What's wrong with the new generation emerging from British art schools? KERRY RICHARDSON, New York

What's wrong are the art schools. In Britain our art schools are, of course, under-funded. They therefore have to take on too many students from abroad with poor skills but rich parents who can afford the higher fees for overseas students, helping the schools' budgets but leaving talented, but impecunious, students without a look-in. In the era that created the YBAs, a brilliant crop of students came together with a wonderful group of teachers and that union created something memorable. The only memorable thing about art schools now is how forgettable the students' work invariably is. One has to marvel how much the spirit of confidence in our art schools has been sapped in just a few years.

Do you ever buy art that you admire technically, and in which you see some future value, but don't actually like? LEE HUGHES, St Albans


Is it true you had to remove Tracey Emin's My Bed from your house because of the smell, and that someone turned off Marc Quinn's Self refrigeration causing the frozen blood to melt? SEAN O'TOOLE, by e-mail


What's Nigella's cooking really like? FRANCINE LEGGE, Suffolk

I'm sure it's fantastic, but a bit wasted on me. I like toast with Dairylea, followed by Weetabix for supper. It drives her to distraction, frankly, particularly as she gets the blame for my new fat look. But the children love her cooking, and our friends seem to look forward to it.

Did you cringe for your wife when you watched her terrible chat show? DAISY RYAN, by e-mail

Nigella owed somebody a favour and repaid it in full with that show. But what's not to like? I and a few million other Nigella fans enjoyed it anyway because we could happily stare at her all day.

How do you rate political advertising today? SYED HUSSAIN, Cardiff

Dim, unsubtle and charmless ever since I stopped doing it, he answered modestly.

You don't go to openings or parties and rarely give interviews. Why is a man with such a flair for publicity so reclusive? IAN USBORNE, Kent

I'm just a cocktail party dud, I'm afraid, and am lost in admiration for friends who are at ease walking into a roomful of people, and chatting happily as they work the room. I would do more interviews but I think I am too sensitive (definition: vain and touchy).

I know very little about contemporary art but have £1,000 to invest. Any advice? FRIEDA PORTEUS, Edinburgh

Premium bonds. Art is no investment unless you get very, very lucky, and can beat the professionals at their game. Just buy something you really like that will give you a thousand pounds' worth of pleasure over the years. And take your time looking for something really special, because looking is half the fun.

Who are your living heroes? JACQUI MARUKO, by e-mail

Gary Cooper in High Noon. Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success. Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. They live forever, if you grew up in the local Regal.