In his latest collection of essays, Babble, advertising legend, compulsive contemporary art collector, and semi-recluse Charles Saatchi waxes poetic about obsessions including Churchill, Picasso, and Proctor & Gamble, while offering insight into sideline interests such as his favourite famous last words and the Israeli Vacuum Society.
The book features 60-plus short, self-contained tracts on everything from visiting artists’ studios – Warhol, Lucien Freud, Julian Schnabel – last meals, Lizstomania, and global warming. For those familiar with Saatchi’s writings from the Evening Standard and elsewhere, Babble will offer few surprises and some laughs. For those unfamiliar with his worldview, this is a fitting introduction to his self-deprecating candour, social anxiety, and increasing fascination with death. Below are some chosen musings from an infamous cultural arbiter and self-proclaimed megalomaniac.
On the hideousness of the Art World:
“If I stop being on good behaviour for a moment, my dark little secret is that I don’t actually believe many people in the art world have much feeling for art and simply cannot tell a good artist from a weak one, until the artist has enjoyed the validation of others – a received pronunciation.”
On Lucien Freud:
“The most abiding memory of visiting Lucian Freud’s studio were his eyes, with the gimlet gaze of a Hooded Falcon. But he made for very relaxing company, quick to be amused at the world and his own peccadilloes. He enjoyed the seedy squalor of his rooms in a posh house in the most desirable part of Holland Park, and living up to his persona as an oddball bohemian.”
"Lucian Freud made for very relaxing company, quick to be amused at the world and his own peccadilloes."
On the theatre:
"My favourite theatrical memory is the exchange between George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill: “I am enclosing two tickets for the first night of my new play. Bring a friend… if you have one.” And Churchill’s reply: “Can’t possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.”
On games with art:
“I once suspended a Marc Quinn life-size figure hanging upside down in a small, but tall, guest lavatory. It was a dark orangey rubber cast of his body, looking rather like a shed skin, dangling by its feet so that its head was alongside yours as you sat. I don’t normally play silly games with art, but the artist was coming over for supper, and I thought he would appreciate my connoisseurship."
“Try to be guided by Winston Churchill, who referred to his occasional bouts of depression as his “black dog”; he thought of a pessimist as someone who sees the difficulty in every opportunity, and an optimist as someone who sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
“Another favourite occupation for strangely gifted people with a limited set of skills [aside from being an artist], is journalism. I happen to be one of the dwindling group that still love the feel of a newspaper page, a sensuous pleasure the internet cannot provide. My admiration for newspaper writers is undimmed, even the breed who are masters of the hatchet, and given the job of pickling the hapless subjects of their newspapers’ disaffection.”
"My admiration for newspaper writers is undimmed, even the breed who are masters of the hatchet."
On being kinky:
“I did once ask room service at the hotel I was living in after a divorce to send out for two large bags of cat litter. My girlfriend who had come round needed them for the cat back at her flat. But the young concierge who delivered them up to the hotel room couldn’t hide his blushes, and I can’t think what he assumed we might need the cat litter for. His imagination was clearly more colourful than mine…”
“[For] every success story in commerce there is one overarching theme: for the true entrepreneur, striving for success isn’t business. It’s just personal. And remember – you never learn anything by doing it right.”
On received wisdom:
“My mum was fond of reminding me, 'Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here, we should dance.’ I always found this analogy strangely callous, as she knew full well I simply cannot dance.”
Babble is out now, published by Booth-Clibborn Editions.
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and regular contributor to anothermag.com.