Artists are often unpredictable, but on a recent studio visit in Brooklyn, I was surprised when the painter greeted me by barking out the window, with her son. The artist is Tillamook Cheddar, an 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier. (She’s named after a type of Oregonian cheese.) Tillamook’s owner, who refers to himself as her “art assistant” and has the remarkable name Bowman Hastie III, immediately handed me a set of ear plugs. Then he explained how his dog’s art career began. One day, when Tillamook was still a puppy, Hastie was sitting with a yellow legal pad, writing, when the dog came up and began scratching at the pad. Curious what the scratches would look like if made visible, Hastie found a sheet of carbon paper. He placed it under the top page, and quite soon Tillie had completed her first “drawing.” The rest is history. The dog has appeared on “Good Morning America,” “The Tonight Show”—and now her paintings are at the One Mile Gallery in Kingston. The show is titled “People Magazine” and prices range from $1,700 for Joe Perry (1977) to $10,500 for the nine-panel title work of the exhibition. (Hastie’s friend, a poet named Sean Flaherty, titles the works.)
I saw Tillie make one of her paintings—technically a monoprint—at her “workstation,” a window seat in Hastie’s garden apartment. Hastie took out a piece of clear plastic, coated it with an orange oil stick (he chooses the color, of course), and taped it over a 12” x 16” piece of watercolor paper, backed by cardboard. The artist immediately took one corner of the coated page in her mouth and began gnawing at it. Then she started scratching, almost as if running, on the Mylar. In between bouts of scratching, she licked the surface. Occasionally she would stop and loudly bark, as if asking for assistance. This process continued for 20 minutes. Right at the end, Tillie tore off a piece of paper shaped like the bottom half of Israel. Was this a comment on the delicate Israeli “peace process” then under way? After finishing the work, the dog showed no interest in it whatsoever.
Held in the arms of her art assistant, Tillie agreed to a brief interview.
Tillamook Cheddar’s art show, “People Magazine,” will be at the One Mile Gallery, 475 Abeel Street in Kingston, through October 23. Meet Tillamook at the Art Along the Hudson tour, October 2 from 1 to 5 pm. She will do live demonstrations at 2 and 4 p.m. (845) 338-2035; www.onemilegallery.com.
Sparrow: How long have you been painting? Bark once for one year, twice for two years, thrice for three years, etc.
Cheddar: [Looks up towards her “art assistant.”]
Sparrow: Can you name some artists you admire?
Cheddar: [Stares directly into my eyes, her tongue hanging out.]
Sparrow: Do you sometimes feel a complete lack of inspiration?
Cheddar: [Licks her mouth, right to left.]
Sparrow: Do you suspect that the middle period of Matisse is slightly overrated?
Cheddar: [Gazes to my right, slightly panting.]
Sparrow: Don’t you sometimes worry that the contemporary art world is full of gimmickry and self-promotion?
Cheddar: [Licks her mouth three times.]
Sparrow: How important is gesso?
Cheddar: [A look of boredom.]
Sparrow: What is your relationship to your audience? Do your paintings confront the viewer, collaborate with her, quietly seduce her—or employ some other strategy?
Cheddar: [Stares at the rug, sadly.]
Sparrow: Do you have a “style,” or is each work a new beginning?
Cheddar: [Gazes directly into my eyes, as if wishing to speak.]
Sparrow: Do you draw on material from your dreams?
Cheddar: [A very low grunting sound.]
Sparrow: Do you consider your art political?
Cheddar: [Looks away, as if to say: “I’d rather not answer that question.”]
Sparrow: What do you say to people who feel an MFA is necessary to be an artist nowadays?
Cheddar: [Closes mouth.]
Sparrow: How is your art evolving?
Cheddar: [Slightly raises right eyebrow.]
Sparrow: Do you ever consider making videos?
Sparrow: Do you secretly feel that dogs are better artists than people?
Cheddar: [Raises ears—as if in amusement.]
Sparrow: What do you think of art by cats?
Cheddar: [Lowers eyelids—a suave, mystical expression.]
Sparrow: Have you seen that video on YouTube of an elephant painting?
Cheddar: [A look of ennui.]
Sparrow: Is your work symbolic, or largely process oriented?
Cheddar: [A look of deepening ennui.]
Sparrow: Do you sometimes think you would give up art for a nice tasty bone?
Cheddar: [Gazes off to the right.]
Sparrow: I just want to thank you for your patience. This is the longest a dog has ever allowed me to interview her.
Cheddar: [Jumps onto floor.]