|Tillie the Artist Dog
The fickle, pretentious dog-eat-dog art world often spurns newcomers, but there is one new artist on the scene who has moved to the head of the pack as premiere bitch.
Tillamook Cheddar, proclaimed the hottest new artist in New York, clawed her way to the top with apparent ease and is holding tight with the tenaciousness of a terrier. In fact, she is a terrier, the Jack Russell variety to be specific.
Born January 19,1999, Tillie, as she is called by her friends, found her creative muse at an early age. Or rather, like many other artists, she was able to successfully capture the attention of someone who recognized her unique form of expression.
Bowman Hastie, Tillie’s companion and assistant, first observed the canine’s artistic bent when she was a mere pup of six months. “I was sitting at my couch, writing on a notepad, when Tillie began pawing at it,” Hastie said. “I happened to have some artist paper on hand and was immediately able to take advantage of her signaling to me.”
Hastie placed a piece of carbon paper over the artist paper and Tillie’s images amazed him. “It was a wonderful expression of energy,” Hastie said. He began providing Tillie with supplies so she could make art whenever the mood struck.
Hastie, who was working as a writer/educator, at the time, lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which he described as “a hotbed of galleries, artists and studios.” When a friend of Hastie’s opened a small gallery, he invited Tillie to be the inaugural artist. “Dog Tag” opened at teethovenstudio before Tillie reached her first birthday.
“After the first show, we went back to living and making paintings,” Hastie said. Tillie has refined her technique over the years. Her assistant, Hastie, prepares a homemade carbon paper with vellum and paint sticks. He makes a smooth coating of paint on paper and places it on another sheet of paper that is mounted to a mat board. “I put Mylar on top so she doesn’t tear through,” Hastie said. “It’s sort of like making a mono print.”
Tillie expresses herself through scratching, licking and nuzzling the surface. “Once I start preparing the materials, she is right by my side and raring to go,” Hastie said. “When she is working, she reaches a sort of heart-beating, trembling, heightened state of ecstasy.”
Therefore, the assistant restricts the artist to one piece per day. “She reaches such a frenzied state that I think it might not be good to do it that often,” Hastie said.
The resulting artistic expressions have been compared to the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem DeKooning, Alberto Burri and Cy Twombly.
“People say it’s abstract, expressionist, and they’ve compared her work to Anastasi, who did “blind” drawings while working on the subway and not looking at the page, just as she is not visually seeing the piece as she is creating it,” Hastie said.
Although Hastie primarily assists the artist in this one process, Tillie has worked in a variety of other media with different artists. “Collarobations,” an exhibit at The National Arts Club in New York, NY, (April 25- May 10, 2002) featured collaborative works by Tillamook Cheddar and 26 human artists. The show demonstrated Tillie’s versatility, increasing popularity and, perhaps more precious, her growing respect within the art community.
“I think her work is beautiful, and it appeals to a lot of people aesthetically,” Hastie said.
Of course, for every artist, there are detractors and nay-sayers. Could this “talent” be a hoax?
Hastie asserts that her longevity speaks for itself. In New York, a Tillie fetches about $1,000, and she is even more popular in Europe. “At her gallery in Belgium, several pieces sold in March for well over $1,000,” Hastie said. She continues to receive acclaim and have exhibits.
Tillie, like many driven artists, is seemingly oblivious to the hubbub surrounding her work, which she performs with dogged determination. “One of the great things about Tillie is that she has no influence,” the assistant said. “She is not influenced by artist critics or buyers. She is free of all of those outside influences in a number of ways.”
Tillamook Cheddar isn’t the first canine to shatter the glass, doghouse roof and “make it” as an artist. Early in her career, Hastie used to worry himself by comparing Tillie to others. “I consider Tillie the world’s pre-eminent canine artist,” he said. “I used to worry about distinguishing her and her technique from other supposed dog artists, but I realized I’m in no position to critique other artists, and I think it’s good for Tillie to have other dog artists out there as a point of comparison. I think it helps it get beyond the notion of (her art) as a novelty. If Tillie can inspire other dogs and owners to do this, then that is a good thing.”
Her fame does beg other humans to wonder about the “hidden” talents of their canine counterparts. While the pooch is performing that ancient, instinctual circling before lying down for a nap, what would be the result if his pads were dappled in mud and his bed were a prepared canvas?
It seems obvious that were it not for the fortuitous pairing of the canine with the enlightened Hastie, Tillie may have scratched away the idle hours of an unfulfilled destiny on the tattered remains of an old leather couch or in a sunny spot in a well-tended yard. She may have reveled in her other passions of squirrel and ball chasing, but the world would not have been graced with the insightful gleanings of the inspired canine.
“I suppose I had the presence of mind to just notice and consider trying to record it,” Hastie said of that first day with the notepad. “I don’t know what response someone else would have had and I don’t know what it was in me. Maybe it was a stronger interest or appreciation in the intellect or consciousness of animals. I don’t know what to chalk it up to — faith, intellect or…maybe I need therapy?”
Whatever it was that tapped her creative juices, Hastie is certain of their verity. “People who have doubts, once they see her work, they are convinced she is truly an artist,” he said.
Tillie may be observed at work most days at Tillie, Ltd., the commercial venture that Hastie opened in New York, June of last year. “At the studio in the shop, she will do demonstrations, and it is sort of a lab for experimenting with different materials,” Hastie said. Tillie does her more serious work at the home studio.
Tillie, Ltd. is a unique gathering of items for the Tillie-inspired and features everything from dog food and T-shirt apparel to note cards and paintings.
In her spare time, the artist enjoys chasing squirrels and playing fetch with her assistant in Prospect Park, near the duo’s new digs in Prospect Heights. She has been considering departing from painting for a time to do a bit of structural work with baseballs and golf balls. “She has some currently on exhibit in Europe,” Hastie said. “She chews up a lot of chew toys and leaves them in little bits on the floor. I haven’t quite figured out what to do with the pieces, so we’re holding on to them.”
“Tillie Goes Bust,” a movie loosely based on her life, is currently “in production,” Hastie said, but added that he wasn’t free to comment on the venture at length.
“Pictures of Tillie,” portraits of her by other artists, will open this month. In October, Tillie, Ltd. will feature “Broken Coat,” a design show of objects either inspired by or designed for Tillie.
As for the artist’s personal life, “painting takes precedence over everything,” Hastie said. Although Tillie hasn’t had much time for romance of late, she did meet a prospective mate in the new neighborhood a month or so ago. “Up until this point, I haven’t been ready for puppies, and I don’t know how pregnancy will affect her working schedule,” Hastie said. “However, her gallery in Brooklyn is already asking for an heir apparent.”
As time goes by and Tillie’s work gains recognition, Hastie marvels at the effect it has had on humans. “I used to think it was about Tillie and dogs and now it seems it is about people and people and that she has become a force for exchanging ideas,” he said. “Tillie loves making it, but her audience is clearly human.”