born New Zealand 1956
arrived Australia 1981
Tammy [heaven], 1987
oil on canvas
180.0 x 148.0 cm
inscribed on reverse: ‘TAMMY’ [HEAVEN] / May / 1987 / EUAN / MACLEOD
Euan Macleod, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 8 - 25 July 1987, catalogue no.20.
Many twentieth century artists find inspiration for their work in the most common and popular forms of imagery with which we are all bombarded every day – newspaper photographs, TV, and the images chosen to arrest our attention on our iPhones. Euan MacLeod’s ‘Tammy’ [heaven], is a curious mixture of two images from late 20th century media, a newspaper photograph of Tammy Bakker the wife of the disgraced televangelist and the disturbing image of the Lady in the radiator from David Lynch’s 1977 cult film, Eraserhead, when she sings In Heaven everything is fine. [email correspondence with the artist, 27 January 2017.]
Tammy, 1942-2007, was the wife of Jim Bakker in whose evangelist ministry she worked from 1961. The ministry included the high-profile television show The PTL Club [Praise the Lord] from the mid-1970s until its collapse in 1987, the date of Macleod’s painting. The predatory sexual activity of Jim Bakker led to the exposure of an extravagant lifestyle funded by their ministry which was claimed to include an air-conditioned doghouse and gold-plated bathroom fittings, and then soon after fraud and conspiracy charges. Jim was sentenced to forty-five years in prison in 1989. During the trial Tammy stood by her husband and they were frequently pictured in tabloid press. Tammy’s blond big hair, larger than life make-up, and ability to cry on camera, made her great material for the press. Filing for divorce in 1992 she said, ‘For years I have been pretending that everything is all right….’, curiously echoing the song from Eraserhead.
‘In Heaven, Everything is fine, in Heaven, everything is fine, in Heaven Everything is fine – you got your good things, and I got mine’, are the words of the hypnotic song written and sung by Peter Ivers in the surrealist film. Mimed in the film by Laurel Near, the Lady in the radiator, who has grotesquely deformed cheeks and an aura of blond fluffy hair with whom Henry, the principal character, eventually has some weird apotheosis as the film ends in a blaze of white light and noise.
In Tammy [Heaven] Macleod has made use of a newspaper photograph of Tammy Bakker. There is a blank space beside her filled by a frenetically scrubbed area of golden paint, perhaps ‘rubbing out’ Jim Bakker so she stands alone. The newspaper photograph has been morphed with Eraserhead’s apocalyptic conclusion. A perfect synthesis between prurient tabloid news and a twentieth century masterpiece of film.
But really the imagery does not matter. It is there, and if we know about it, all is fine. Very few contemporary artists manage to make figurative painting seem relevant. Macleod’s imagery is enigmatic and invites the viewer to speculate, while the real subject of his art is the act of painting. The richness of colour, the tonal contrasts, and the expressionist brushwork are all more important than the subject. Few contemporary artists understand the strength of a brushstroke applied with energy and conviction better than Macleod.
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