Guinea Pig Origins

Lost Guinea Pig
1990, printed photograph, wood, chicken wire.

Without Desire there is Tranquility
1991, oil on canvas & hutch, life-size.


In 1990 I finished my BA Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and promptly signed on the dole. There was a recession and the chances of making a go of a career as an artist seemed a remote possibility. Indeed, at this time the word 'artist' was synonymous with 'sponger' to most of the UK population, so I reverted to type. Besides, even the local Tescos in Rotherhithe had closed their register of job applications for night-shift work stacking shelves. It was in this establishment one day that I chanced upon a pet-care book with an image of a guinea pig on the cover, which both humoured me and resonated with my predicament. I cut out the image and made a crappy little frame or hutch for it. Christmas loomed, and the local Cafe Gallery in Southwark Park advertised for work to enter its annual open exhibition. I entered this humble piece and attached the exorbitant price of £300, beyond my wildest fantasies. Over the Christmas break thieves broke into the gallery, sawing through iron bars. Three works were stolen of the hundred or so on display, my work being one of them. The insurance money came in handy, compensation for enduring suspicious looks from the gallery staff. To me there was no difference. The thieves had exercised their critical faculties, so I felt duly chuffed by their discerning choice.

But I missed the piece, and just had this photograph as a reminder.

So, the next spring I remade it. This time painting the guinea pig, and making it life-size. This seemed to add more poignancy to the work, saying something more specifically about the nature of painting, and the resonances of handy-work. I gave it the title Without Desire there is Tranquility, a Taoist expression from chapter 37 of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. It reflected the domesticated nature of the confined animal, echoing a natural inclination to go with the flow, to take what comes.