for National Geographic Channel
Most of America's 68 million dogs are pampered pets, but a small percent still actually work for their biscuits. Among these gainfully employed canines, there's a range of occupations, from seeing-eye and guard dogs to sheep herders and hunting dogs. But artists?
Tillie, a three-year-old Jack Russell terrier from Brooklyn is, according to her Web site, "the world's preeminent canine artist." She is indeed a rising star among visual artists on the New York City contemporary art scene.
The 16-pound female, whose full name is Tillamook Cheddar (for the Oregon cheese she's so fond of), has seen her pictures hung in 12 exhibitions over the past three years, including six one-dog shows. She's made a dozen TV appearancesand the four-legged artist has sold about 100 pictures, with sales "in the five-figures."
Tillie's abstract creations have been likened to modern masters Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly. In her most recent show at the prestigious National Arts Clubentitled "Collarobations"she created works with the controversial artist Tom Sachs, photographer Dirk Westphal, and 24 other humans.
How Does a Dog Embark on an Art Career?
Okay, so how exactly does a dog embark on an art career? It all began when Tillie was just a six-month-old pup. One day, her owner, freelance writer Bowman Hastie, was sitting on the couch writing on a legal pad. The dog jumped up and started scratching away at the pad.
"I thought she was trying to communicate in a similar way to me," remembers Hastie. So he got out some carbon paper and gave her a go at the padand she scratched out her first image. "I thought, 'this is really cool, my dog can draw.'"
Creating Art in a Frenzy of Excitement
She's been drawing ever since. And Tillie is wild about "drawing." When Hastie asks her, "Do you want to work?" she bounds after him. She jumps into the nearest chair and intently eyes his every move, trembling with anticipation as he prepares her "canvas." He places colored transfer paper atop back-to-back, ten-inch squares of fuzzy matte board (Tillie's currently making diptychs), then dog-protects it with a layer of packing tape.
When he's done, Tillie takes a headlong leap to snatch it from his hand and gets to work. She alternates between what Hastie describes as "deliberate mark-making" and frenetic canine creativity. The dog shakes the board, primes the surface with prolonged licking, chews on a corner and wrestles with it, and digs furiously in spurts, punctuating it all with the occasional bite.
When she shreds off a piece of tape, she looks at Hastie expectantly to remove it. But she growls menacingly if he tries to touch her creation. "She'll bite you if you get in the way of her work," he said.