Introducing Charles Saatchi's new protégés: A security guard, an ex-stripper and a drag queen

There is the security guard, the former stripper, the tattoo artist and the drag queen. Welcome to the strange new world of Charles Saatchi's latest artistic protégés.

There is the security guard, the former stripper, the tattoo artist and the drag queen. Welcome to the strange new world of Charles Saatchi's latest artistic protégés.

For years the advertising guru has trawled London galleries to find the Damien Hirsts, the Tracey Emins and the Sarah Lucases of the future.

Now, with the first anniversary of his huge gallery in County Hall near the London Eye approaching, Mr Saatchi is preparing to unveil the results of his past 18 months of searching.

New Blood, an exhibition which opens to the public on 24 March, presents exactly what it says in the title: new blood. There are 24 new artists, including James Jessop, a Group 4 security guard, Stella Vine, a former stripper whose paintings of the Princess of Wales and the heroin addict Rachel Whitear are producing the kind of controversy with which Mr Saatchi has been long associated, Alastair Mackie, who makes works from military objects, such as a Stetson from model warplanes, and Dr Takla, a Mexican tattoo artist.

There is also a strong international flavour to the show, with artists from America, Israel and Germany, and acquisitions from Mr Saatchi's favourites, including Gavin Turk, Yasumasa Morimura, who presents self-portraits of himself as female screen icons, and the 2003 Turner Prize winner, Grayson Perry, a transvestite potter.

And even though Damien Hirst bought back a rumoured £6m-worth of art from Charles Saatchi last year with the jibe that Saatchi "only recognised art with his wallet", it seems Britain's most famous art collector has not taken it personally. A piece from Hirst's show at the White Cube gallery in Hoxton, east London - a work called The Cancer Chronicles, consisting of a black morass of dead flies - is among the new works in New Blood.

As ever, Charles Saatchi himself is elusive when it comes to defending his collection. Although he takes a hands-on approach to hanging his shows, he shies away from talking about it in public. Yesterday, when Vine's painting of Ms Whitear prompted interest from the television cameras, Mr Saatchi himself dived into a side-room until they passed.

But he understands the power of the art in his collection. After it became clear that the family of Ms Whitear, already distressed at a decision to exhume their daughter's body, had been further distressed by the painting, he gave Vine the option of taking the work down.

The pressure was immense; even the Police Complaints Authority took the unusual step of asking the gallery to withdraw the picture. Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman, said: "It would be most insensitive to place this picture on display immediately after the exhumation of her body. Understandably, her parents were appalled. We are calling for sensitivity, not censorship."

Vine stressed that her intention of taking the photograph of Ms Whitear as a teenager and painting it was only to produce something beautiful. "As soon as I saw it [the photograph], I just painted it," she said. "It [The painting] is for Rachel and it's inside Rachel and inside people who are suffering," she said.

Those close to Mr Saatchi said that he did not believe it was his job to censor art. "He thinks that if an artist he respects has made a work that is difficult, it is not his job to censor them. When artists have got something to say, it doesn't necessarily mean that he thinks what they are saying is tasteful," an aide to Mr Saatchi said.

"We get a number of school groups here and they see some very robust pieces of art. They don't even raise their eyebrows. The public have grown up and know more about what contemporary artists are trying to say. Things that once appeared alarming don't now."

Which means that, even though new pieces such as Girlfriend from Hell and Puny Undernourished Kid, two works by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, feature strong expletives, there is no explicit warning at the entrance to the side gallery in which they are housed.

It is hard to ignore the nagging suspicion that Mr Saatchi, ever the showman, rather enjoys the circuses he creates.

He would appear to read what is written about him. After Philip Dodd, the director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, dismissed the new gallery as a "1990s museum" last year, Mr Saatchi snapped up one of the prize works in Mr Dodd's show of the time, a moaning mummy by Francis Upritchard.

But whether you agree with his circus or not, his passion for art is undoubted. "A lot of people in this show are just people he thinks should be better known," an aide said.

And, as Charles Saatchi is the man who owns many of the iconic artworks of the past 15 years, from Damien Hirst's sheep in formaldehyde to Tracey Emin's unmade bed, perhaps anyone wanting to start their own collection should take note.


James Jessop

Jessop paints in his time off from his job as a security guard. Charles Saatchi spotted his giant canvas, entitled Horrific, in Hackney, London, about 10 days ago and bought it for £2,000.

Stella Vine

A 35-year-old single mother who took up painting four years ago. Vine has sold two canvases to Saatchi in recent weeks. Yesterday she unveiled a portrait of the heroin victim Rachel Whitear.

Dr Takla

A Mexican tattoo artist, the five of his works bought by Saatchi take pictures of pin-up girls, wrestlers and others from 1950s Mexican magazines which and decorates them with tattoo designs. The effect is grotesque and kitsch.

Yasumasa Morimura

This wry, gender-bending artist from Japan has a series of self-portraits in which he presents himself as a number of legendary actresses.