Billy Apple

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Billy Apple

Apple in 2018
Barrie Bates

(1935-12-31)31 December 1935
Auckland, New Zealand
Died6 September 2021(2021-09-06) (aged 85)
EducationRoyal College of Art, London, postgraduate diploma in graphic design
Known forRigorous idea-driven works across many fields of art
MovementPop art, Conceptual art

Billy Apple ONZM (born Barrie Bates;[1][2] 31 December 1935 – 6 September 2021) was a New Zealand artist, whose work is associated with the London, Auckland and New York schools of pop art in the 1960s and NY's Conceptual Art movement in the 1970s. He worked alongside artists like Andy Warhol and David Hockney before opening the second of the seven New York Not-for-Profit spaces in 1969. His work is held in the permanent collections of Tate Britain, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, Chrysler Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, National Gallery of Australia, Te Papa, Auckland Art Gallery, the Christchurch Art Gallery, the University of Auckland, and the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst in Belgium.

Early life[edit]

Barrie Bates was born in the Auckland suburb of Royal Oak on 31 December 1935, the eldest child of Marjia (née Petrie) and Albert Bates.[3][4][5] He attended Mount Albert Grammar School, but left secondary school aged 15 without qualifications. He took a job as a technician for a paint manufacturer in 1951 where he developed a proportional system of mixing paint rather than colour matching by eye. He then worked as a junior in design and advertising notably designing the Farmers Department Store logo. Bates attended evening classes at Elam School of Fine Arts, where he met Robert Ellis, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London.[4]

In 1959 he left New Zealand on a New Zealand Government scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, London,[6] from 1959 to 1962.[7] During his time at the RCA, Apple made friends with fellow students Ridley Scott and David Hockney and went on to become one of a new generation of pop artists, which included amongst others, Derek Boshier, Frank Bowling, and Pauline Boty. During this time, he frequently exhibited in the Young Contemporaries and Young Commonwealth Artists exhibitions alongside Frank Bowling, Jonathan Kingdon, Bill Culbert, Jan Bensemann, and Jerry Pethick.[citation needed]. His relationship with novelist Ann Quin then secretary of the RCA painting school and David Hockney are the subjects of Anthony Byrt's book, The Mirror Seemed Over: Love and Pop in London, 1962,[8] which unearths a more interesting and complicated picture for the development of pop art.

Billy Apple[edit]

Bates conceived a new artistic persona and on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1962, he bleached his hair and eyebrows with Lady Clairol Instant Cremé Whip and became Billy Apple.[9] He announced his self-branding name change publicly in 1963 in his first solo show – Apple Sees Red: Live Stills – at Victor Musgrave's Gallery One, London. He moved to New York City in 1964.[10][2]

A pivotal event in his career was the 1964 exhibit "The American Supermarket", a show held in Paul Bianchini's Upper East Side gallery. The show was presented as a typical small supermarket environment, except that everything in it – the produce, canned goods, meat, posters on the wall, etc. – was created by prominent pop artists of the time, including Apple, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann, Jasper Johns, Mary Inman, James Rosenquist, and Robert Watts.[4]

Apple was one of the artists who pioneered the use of neon in art.[11] This was seen in the 1965 exhibitions Apples to Xerox and Neon Rainbows, both at The Bianchini Gallery. Then in 1967, the exhibition Unidentified Fluorescent Objects (UFOs), which showed a collection of neon light sculptures, was held at the Howard Wise Gallery, a fore-runner to the organisation Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI).[12] One of Apple's UFOs was included in a 2013 exhibition which reconsidered the influence of the Howard Wise Gallery.[13][14]

In 1969, the artist established Apple, one of the first alternative exhibition spaces in New York City at 161 West Twenty-third Street in order, as he stated, "to provide an independent and experimental alternative space for the presentation of [his] own work and the work of others." Initially, the exhibition space was part of his own studio. During its four years, Apple produced 35 works in the venue and hosted work by other artists including Geoff Hendricks, Mac Adams, Davi Det Hompson, Larry Miller, and Jerry Vis. The space was considered both an exhibition space and a forum for art and discourse.[15]

In 1974, Apple's first major survey exhibition was held at the Serpentine Gallery in London: From Barrie Bates to Billy Apple. In 1975 Apple returned to New Zealand for the first time in sixteen years.[16] During the visit, he embarked on a national exhibition tour with support from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. Apple was then invited back for a tour over the summer of 1979 and 1980. The exhibition he toured was called The Given as an Art Political Statement. During each tour, he exhibited in spaces throughout the country.[17]

Billy Apple in New Zealand[edit]

The Corner Post (2011), a sculpture by Billy Apple installed outside Eden Park

During the 1980s, Apple's practice focused on the economics of the art world. The exhibition Art for Sale at Peter Webb gallery in 1980 was made up of a series of artworks that were actual receipts for the payment given to the artist. This work progressed on to a series called Transactions. Other important series of works by Apple that began in the 1980s include Golden Rectangle series and From the Collection. In 1983 he produced a solid gold apple for former Auckland Coin & Bullion Exchange Director, Ray Smith, valued at $(NZ)85,000 – the most expensive work made by a living New Zealander at the time[18] and a significant precursor to Damien Hirst's 2007 diamond skull titled For the Love of God. The gold apple was later exhibited at Artspace, Auckland in 2004 as part of an installation developed with regular collaborator and writer, Wystan Curnow.[19]

He returned to New Zealand permanently in 1990[2] and lived in Auckland. In 1991 the Wellington City Art Gallery staged a decade survey of his work: As Good as Gold: Billy Apple Art Transactions 1981–1991. Negotiations are underway between Saatchi & Saatchi and the New Zealand horticulture research centre to develop an apple that could be named "Billy Apple". In 2001 Apple created a company, "Billy Apple Ltd", in anticipation of securing licensing of the marketing rights over this new apple.[20]

In the 2005 New Year Honours, Apple was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to art.[21]

The artist had a long-standing interest and involvement in motor racing, which was acknowledged with two vehicles from his own collection in the 1991 As Good as Gold survey and the accompanying publication.[22] This interest was brought to the fore with The Art Circuit, a sound performance work incorporating famous bikes and riders staged on the Auckland Art Gallery forecourt in 2007. This was followed by the 2008 solo exhibition, The Bruce and Denny Show,[23] presented at Two Rooms in 2008 as a tribute to the McLaren brand, and particularly to the motoring triumphs of Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme from 1967 to 1969. The exhibition included Hulme's $1.5 million McLaren M8A-2 racing car and text works that refer to the tracks raced and the two drivers' cars' livery.[24]

In 2008, Apple was the subject of a feature-length documentary called Being Billy Apple. Produced by Spacific Films and directed by award-winning filmmaker, Leanne Pooley, the documentary tells the story of Billy Apple's life from his POP period through his involvement with the conceptual art movement in New York City during the 1970s to his current "horticultural/art" Apple endeavours.[25]

In 2009, the Adam Art Gallery, Wellington staged the survey exhibition Billy Apple: New York 1969–1973, covering the activities undertaken by the artist in the not-for-profit gallery he ran from 161 West 23rd Street.[26] Later in 2009 the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art (now known as the Kunstinstituut Melly) in Amsterdam presented a major exhibition in two parts, curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen; the first Billy Apple: A History of the Brand, surveyed the artist's entire practice from inception as his own brand to the present day;[27] the second, Revealed/Concealed, focused on his works that critique the site of art through architectural interventions.[28]

In 2015, Apple was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, curated by Tina Barton.[29] Apple had a citywide presence during the retrospective with many other institutions and galleries in the city independently holding presentations of the artist's work at the same time including Artspace NZ,[30] Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery,[31] Melanie Roger Gallery,[32] Starkwhite,[33] Gow Langsford Gallery,[34]as well as Bergman Gallery in association with Starkwhite, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.[35] The occasion of the retrospective also saw the commercial launch of Billy Apple Ciders and an application developed by the Albert Eden Local Board called the Billy Apple Compass which could be used to navigate the artist's public sculptures.[36]

Billy Apple and his collaborators[edit]

Ann Quin[edit]

Starting with his studies at the Royal College of Art, Billy Apple explored and tested the space between the conception and implementation of an art object or project.[37] For example, when he came to write his thesis presentation, he asked Ann Quin, a close friend of his, to write it for him.[38] He also drew from his early experience in advertising to adapt some of the industry’s collaborative production techniques and began to outsource the making of his own work to highly skilled professionals.[39] 

Terry Maitland[edit]

Although many artists use fabricators[40] to make their work, Apple was always fascinated by a deeper blurring of the conventional boundaries between artists and the art infrastructure. As art historian Christina Barton put it, he was not just fascinated by the making of art but by ‘the whole ecology of it.’[41] An example is the development of Apple’s relationship with Terry Maitland, an Auckland signwriter. Maitland recalls first working with Apple on an advertising job in 1981 and soon after that beginning their long association during which Maitland produced all of Apple’s signature style canvases.[42]

Wystan Curnow[edit]

Apple’s longest serving and closest collaborator was Wystan Curnow an art critic, curator and poet who taught at the University of Auckland. They started working together in the late-1970s and Curnow went on to collaborate on many of the works Apple made while in New Zealand.[43] Acting as ‘minder’, advisor, copywriter and commentator,[44] Curnow worked with Apple on the development of ideas and strategies such as The Given as an Art Political Statement,[45] Sold,[46] and The artist has to live like everybody else.[47]

Apple and Curnow first developed the phrase The artist has to live like everybody else in 1985.[48] It was also used as the text on a large billboard-sized work in central Rotterdam in 2009 as part of Apple’s two-part survey exhibition at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. Six years later the same words were chosen as the title of Apple’s survey exhibition curated by Christina Barton at the Auckland Art Gallery. A large version of the text in Apple’s familiar typeface, was mounted at the gallery’s entrance. In recognition of the close collaboration behind its creation and presentation over 35 years, this time a credit line included Curnow’s name alongside Apple’s.[29] ( See also: Wystan Curnow Talks About Billy Apple)

Dr Craig Hilton[edit]

In 2009 Apple donated blood to the New Zealand artist and scientist Dr Craig Hilton, leading to a series of three science/art projects by Hilton. In The Immortalisation of Billy Apple® (2010) a cell line from Apple's cells was created using a virus to alter Apple's cells, so that they would keep regenerating forever.[49][50] The cell lines - named formally after Billy Apple® - are held at the University of Auckland's School of Biological Sciences and the American Type Culture Collection, Virginia, in the United States. In the second work, Hilton commissioned Otago University-based New Zealand Genomics Ltd to sequence Apple's entire genome for The Digitisation of Billy Apple. In the third of Hilton's works, The Analysis of Billy Apple's Genome (2014) the artist presents Apple's personal genetic information in a Circos diagram. Hilton says the works are designed to provoke debate around scientific advances and the ethical challenges they create.[51][52][53] Writing in Metro magazine, art critic Anthony Byrt opined:[54] 'It's the most complex and radical project Apple has been involved in since the name change. It's also how the brand will outlast the body.'


In 2018, Apple was named as an Icon by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, an honour limited to 20 living New Zealanders.[55]


Apple died on the morning of 6 September 2021 following a "short illness".[56] He was 85.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tilman Osterwold, Pop Art, Taschen, 2003, p78. ISBN 3-8228-2070-9
  2. ^ a b c Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (2005). Treasures from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Te Papa Press. p. 69. ISBN 1-877385-12-3.
  3. ^ a b "Billy Apple, 'giant of New Zealand art', has died". The New Zealand Herald. 5 September 2021. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  4. ^ a b c "Portrait of an artist: Billy Apple". New Zealand Herald. 14 March 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  5. ^ "Births". Auckland Star. Vol. 66, no. 309. 31 December 1935. p. 1. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  6. ^ "'Ground-breaking' New Zealand artist Billy Apple dies aged 85". The Guardian. 6 September 2021. Archived from the original on 6 September 2021. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  7. ^ Dunn, Michael (2002). New Zealand Sculpture: A History. Auckland University Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-86940-277-8.
  8. ^ Byrt, Anthony (2020). The mirror steamed over: love and pop in London, 1962. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. ISBN 978-1-86940-910-4.
  9. ^ Curnow, Wystan (2003). "Apple, Billy". Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.t003469. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  10. ^ "Artist Billy Apple, pioneer in pop art, dies at 85". Radio New Zealand. 6 September 2021. Archived from the original on 6 September 2021. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  11. ^ "A Times Square of the Mind". Time. 18 March 1966. Archived from the original on 28 October 2010.
  12. ^ Oppenheimer, Robin (March/April 2007). "Video Installation: Characteristics of an Expanding Medium". After Image 34 (5): 14–18.
  13. ^ "Press release: Howard Wise Gallery: Exploring the New". Archived from the original on 1 July 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  14. ^ Russeth, Andrew (9 April 2013). "'Howard Wise: Exploring the New' at Moeller Fine Art". GalleristNY. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  15. ^ Barton, Christina (2020). Billy Apple : life/work. Auckland University Press. pp. 125–135. ISBN 978-1-77671-053-9. OCLC 1224361137.
  16. ^ Billy Apple. Zoë. Gray, Nicolaus Schlafhausen, Monika Szewczyk, Centre For Contemporary Art Wittie De With. Rotterdam: Wittie De With, Centre For Contemporary Art. 2009. p. 18. ISBN 978-90-73362-89-5. OCLC 458769322.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ Curnow, Wystan (2015). Sold on Apple : the complete Wystan Curnow writings. Auckland Art Gallery Toi Tamaki. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-86463-302-6. OCLC 921144004.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  18. ^ Clifford, Andrew (16 June 2004). "Tales of Gold: The Tale of Ray, at Artspace". NZ Herald. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  19. ^ "Tales of Gold, Billy Apple with Wystan Curnow". Artspace. Archived from the original on 9 February 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  20. ^ As good as gold : Billy Apple, Art Transactions, 1981-1991. Wystan Curnow, Gregory Burke, Wellington City Art Gallery. Wellington, N.Z.: Wellington City Art Gallery, Wellington City Council. 1991. ISBN 0-908818-15-7. OCLC 33455133.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  21. ^ "New Year honours list 2005". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2004. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  22. ^ Gregory Burke, "Exchange Value", in As Good As Gold: Billy Apple Art Transactions 1981–1991 (Wellington: Wellington City Art Gallery, 1991), 13–14.
  23. ^ "The Bruce and Denny Show". Two Rooms.
  24. ^ Andrew Clifford, "Billy Apple" in Art World Issue 4 August/September 2008, 106–109.
  25. ^ "Being Billy Apple". NZONSCREEN IWI WHITIĀHUA. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  26. ^ "Billy Apple | Adam Art Gallery".
  27. ^ "Billy Apple® A History of the Brand - Exhibitions - Program - FKA Witte de With".
  28. ^ "Billy Apple® Revealed / Concealed | Witte de with". Archived from the original on 20 September 2015. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  29. ^ a b "Billy Apple®: The Artist Has to Live Like Everybody Else". Auckland Art Gallery.
  30. ^ "ARTSPACE - Billy Apple®, SUCK". Archived from the original on 5 February 2019. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  31. ^ "Billy Apple: Sound Works 1968-2015 - Te Uru".
  32. ^ "Gallery Abstracts 2011 - 2015".
  33. ^ "Exhibitions". Starkwhite.
  34. ^ "Gow Langsford Gallery".
  35. ^ "Billy Apple in Rarotonga". Artnow. Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  36. ^ "Billy Apple Compass". Billy Apple Compass.
  37. ^ "Billy Apple and Wystan Curnow". Retrieved 13 April 2023.
  38. ^ Wedde, Ian. "The Wednesday Review". Retrieved 13 April 2023.
  39. ^ Byrt, Anthony (Spring 2021). "Billy Apple: Goodwill Is Important". Art News New Zealand.
  40. ^ Hass, Nancy (22 June 2018). "Are Fabricators the Most Important People in the Art World?". New York Times.
  41. ^ MacKinnon, Toni. "From the MTG: Billy Apple a successful creative export". Hawkes Bay Today.
  42. ^ "Interview with Terry Maitland, signwriter, on working with Billy Apple". Retrieved 13 April 2023.
  43. ^ "Post-object and Conceptual Art". Retrieved 13 April 2023.
  44. ^ "Report: The Given as an Art Political Statement". Art New Zealand (15). Summer 1980.
  45. ^ "Towards the Centre: The Given as an Art-Political Statement Billy Apple, Artist; Wystan Curnow, Author". Retrieved 13 April 2023.
  46. ^ Billy Apple. Zoë. Gray, Nicolaus Schlafhausen, Monika Szewczyk, Centre For Contemporary Art Wittie De With. Rotterdam: Wittie De With, Centre For Contemporary Art. 2009. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-90-73362-89-5. OCLC 458769322.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  47. ^ Libeau, Frances. "Billy Apple: The Artist Has to Live Like Everybody Else". The Pantograph Punch.
  48. ^ As good as gold : Billy Apple, Art Transactions, 1981-1991. Wystan Curnow, Gregory Burke, Wellington City Art Gallery. Wellington, N.Z.: Wellington City Art Gallery, Wellington City Council. 1991. pp. 8–19. ISBN 0-908818-15-7. OCLC 33455133.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  49. ^ Nicholls, Jenny (May 2010). "The Weird World of Art + Science". North & South.
  50. ^ Morton, Frances (May 2010). "Arts". Metro.
  51. ^ Wane, Joanna; Nicholls, Jenny (October 2015). "Getting Personal". North & South. p. 48.
  52. ^ "Artist's 46-year-old loo paper to be studied". NZ Herald. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  53. ^ "Contributors biography". North & South. November 2017. p. 8.
  54. ^ "Metro | The immortal artist". Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  55. ^ Wenman, Eleanor (9 May 2018). "Five top Kiwi artists earn the title of Icon from the New Zealand Arts Foundation". Dominion Post. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  56. ^ "Artist Billy Apple dies after short illness". Stuff. 5 September 2021. Retrieved 5 September 2021.

External links[edit]