You think Eddie, the Jack Russell terrier from "Frasier," was talented? Ha! All he had to do was sit there and look cute on cue -- and his show isn't even on television anymore.
Tillie -- now there's a dog with some real bite.
The 5-year-old Jack Russell is an artist who has had her paintings exhibited in New York, Los Angeles and Europe. She recently opened a gallery and store in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the borough's epicenter of all things artsy and hip.
Her intense, instinctive scratch marks -- in red, blue, yellow and black -- have drawn comparisons to abstract artists Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly.
You may be wondering: How does a creature with non-opposable thumbs accomplish such a hands-on craft? Well, she gets a little help from Bowman Hastie, her human companion, who discovered her talent when she was just 6 months old.
Hastie, a 35-year-old writer, noticed Tillie pawing furiously at one of his notepads one day. "She really had a sense of focus and determination. She was honing in on the surface," he says. "I was amazed by it."
As an experiment, he put a piece of carbon paper in front of her, and faster than you could say "Pablo Picasso," an artist was born.
Now Tillie -- whose full name is Tillamook Cheddar -- has developed her technique over the years. Hastie takes a piece of pigmented paper and places it face-down on another sheet of paper that's mounted onto a mat board. Tillie then takes this canvas in her mouth and carries it to her workspace, where she nibbles and claws at it feverishly.
Whatever is left on the canvas is her final creation -- though she gets so carried away sometimes, she ends up destroying her own work.
At the recent opening of Tillie Ltd., though, she showed a far more cordial disposition. The 18-pound pooch -- who has white, wiry fur with brown-and-black markings around her mischievous, dark eyes -- was more like a social butterfly.
She trotted between the small, spare, concrete-floored storefront -- where her original oil paintings mounted on the walls sell for $1,000 -- and the sidewalk outside, where visitors perused a table piled with T-shirts featuring her designs. She greeted friends and fans by wagging her tail and begging sweetly for the nuggets of cheese for which she's named.
"I didn't own a Tillie, and I had to own one, and partly because I know the artist," said 31-year-old Rebecca Weisberg of Manhattan, explaining why she spent $40 on an art box -- a square lamp adorned with the dog's bold marks in pink and white.
Hastie insists success hasn't gone to Tillie's head. In her downtime, she still takes part in normal canine activities at Brooklyn's dog-friendly Prospect Park.
"She likes jumping and catching balls, chasing squirrels," says Hastie, nursing a drink and schmoozing with visitors on the artist's behalf. "Her process when she's working is a combination of work instinct and play instinct. I don't think she thinks, 'I'm an artist. I'm making art.' "
Others, however, are taking her seriously. Tillie just returned from a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands, where her paintings were on display in solo exhibitions. She also has had her work shown at galleries throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Art dealer Mike Pollack, who has sold some Tillies, expects that her more unusual items may do well, such as the five-pound bags of dog food that feature a limited edition, green-and-yellow print. (Those go for $100, by the way, and are billed as "the world's most expensive dog food.")
"More sophisticated art types have bought her stuff and think it's going to be worth money," says Pollack, who added that Europeans have been far more open to the idea of dog art than Americans.
"I don't think another dog can do this," he says. "This dog is different for whatever reason."
It makes sense that Tillie's breed is adept at artistic expression. According to the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, they are primarily hunting dogs. They are bred to dig underground and have the energy of a big dog in a little dog's body, so they need lots of exercise.
Not everyone is convinced, though. Hastie acknowledges that some people are skeptical.
"People either think it's a spoof or that the persona of a dog artist has been created," he says. "Some people like the paintings and don't believe a dog has done them -- people think a dog can't be an artist, or I'm the artist.
"As far as defending it, I don't concern myself too much."
But Hastie does concern himself with Tillie's profitability. He's still writing -- he recently put together a collection of essays called "Confessions of a Dog Artist's Assistant" -- but he's looking forward to the day when Tillie is his main source of income.
"My only goal is for my dog to support me," he says. "I've carried her for five years -- that's 35 dog years. She can carry me for the next 35 years."
Tillie declined to comment -- and scampered away, tail in the air, in search of more cheese.