Billy Apple, an artist, died after a brief illness

Billy Apple, an artist, died after a brief illness

Apple died just after 3am on Monday following a short illness.

New Zealand artist Billy Apple has died aged 85.

He was one of New Zealand’s most celebrated and significant visual artists, being an Arts Foundation Icon and an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

His art is held in major private and public collections, including the Guggenheim Museum, Tate Britain, Chrysler Museum of Art, Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art and in Te Papa Tongarewa.

Billy Apple’s ‘Motion Picture Meets the Apple’ (detail), 1963.
CHARTWELL COLLECTION, AUCKLAND ART GALLERY TOI O TAMAKI
Billy Apple’s ‘Motion Picture Meets the Apple’ (detail), 1963.
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His close friend, Hamish McKay, of Wellington’s Hamish McKay Gallery, said Apple recently wed his partner, Mary Morrison.

“Conceptually rigorous, his attention to detail was astonishing,” McKay said. “Billy could be demanding when presenting an exhibition, but once you understood what was required and got on with it, he was an easy collaborator, the results were always nothing short of world-class.

“Unique and authentic, he has left a body of work and a legacy that has raised the bar, and gold standard for generations of artists to come.”

Born in 1935 in Auckland as Barrie Bates, Apple left Aotearoa to study graphic design at the Royal College of Art in London in 1959. After graduating in 1962, he changed his name to Billy Apple in a self-branding exercise, then in 1964 moved to New York City.

With an interest in the mechanisms of branding and commerce, Apple became one of the catalysts of the pop and conceptual art movements, and he collaborated with artists, including Andy Warhol. His constructed identity became a marketing device, for which he later developed a fruit-shaped logo, then internationally registered as a trademark.

To create a venue for his work in Manhattan, he established APPLE, a not-for-profit space at 161 West 23rd St, which he operated between October 1969 and May 1973. While living overseas he exhibited at various alternative, museum and gallery spaces, including hosting a major survey exhibition in 1974 in London’s Serpentine Gallery. Since the 1980s, he produced text-based works that drew attention to the art system.

“Billy somehow combined an absolute rigour and fastidiousness with a generosity and wicked sense of humour. He could be amazingly tough to work with – he expected the best. But if he recognised that’s what you were trying to achieve, he repaid you with deep respect and friendship,” Byrt said. “Another artist once said to me that the real mark of greatness is how much someone makes possible for the people who follow them. By that measure, Billy was one of the genuine greats. Contemporary art in New Zealand wouldn’t have been the same without him.

“There are now several generations of us who owe Billy a huge debt. I learned an enormous amount from him about how to be in the world, how to contribute meaningfully to it, and what to expect in return.” NIGHTS/RNZ
RNZ talks to Author Christina Barton about Billy Apple®: Life/Work – the first substantial book on Billy Apple, New Zealand’s most internationally significant artist and a pioneer of pop and conceptual art.
Courtney Johnston, Te Papa’s tumu whakarae, said Apple showed that art was part of “all sorts of systems” – financial exchange, leisure, science and commerce.

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