Billy Apple, Artist Who Was His Own Life’s Work, Dies at 85

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Born Barry Bates in New Zealand, he became Billy Apple in London, beginning a long career that progressed from pop to conceptual through his exploration of art.

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During his long, stimulating career, artist Billy Apple changed his name, registered it as a trademark, branded products with it, sequenced his genome and, finally, arranged for his cells to be extracted and stored. So that they may live forever, even if they live forever. he could not. He died on 6 September at the age of 85 at his home in Auckland, New Zealand.


The cause was esophageal cancer, said Mary Morrison, his wife and colleague.

He was born in Auckland as Barry Bates, but became Billy Apple in London after graduating, barely, from the Royal College of Art in 1962, one of a rebel group that included David Hockney and RB Kitaj.

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By 1964 he was in New York City (from sculptor Eva Hesse building a scaffold on the Bowery) and showing his work. His cast bronze, half-eaten watermelon slice was one of several items included in “The American Supermarket”. an early pop pageant At the Bianchini Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where one could buy versions of the artist’s actual products: turkeys painted by Roy Lichtenstein, candy made by Claes Oldenburg, and cans of Campbell’s soup signed by Andy Warhol. The gallerist took the order at the grocery pad.

“He was a conceptual artist in the most fundamental sense,” said Christina Barton, a university museum director and art historian who is the author of “Billy Apple® Life/Work,” a biography 10 years in the making and published in 2020. are engaged. “He was committed to living out this idea in every minute of every day. He never stopped being ‘Billy Apple,’ which is certainly a total invention.”

Mr. Apple worked in neon, captivating some reviewers such as Robert Pincus-Witten of ArtForum magazine, who described Mr. Apple’s rainbow as “erotic neon impersonations”. But the city inspector was not fascinated. In 1966, when Mr. Apple was 27, he unplugged one of his shows at the Pepsi Gallery, in the lobby of the Pepsi-Cola Building on Park Avenue and 59th Street, saying the pieces were not wired to code Was.

The opening of the show was done so well that it caused a traffic jam. One attendee was Tom Wolfe, who later banned Mr Apple pieces in New York magazine – “they’re lame…they explode,” he wrote. (Mr. Wolfe was writing about the artistry of commercial neon sign makers and pokes fun at the art world in the process.)

It was a time of riots. Mr. Apple and his fellows, early pop and conceptual artists, engaged in all kinds of shenanigans aimed at raising perceptions of what could be considered art and where and how it could be presented.

His art-making methods – Mr. Apple went through a clean-up, washing the windows, mopping the floor tiles and cleaning up the mess on the ceiling of his studio – were not always well-received. His “Roof Dirt” piece, which came as an invitation in 1971, prompted John Kennedy to write that it “belongs to a field of art-related activity in which nothing but the artist’s word distinguishes.” Doesn’t put‐on and a seriously proposed project.”

Mr Apple then turned to less festive practices, such as keeping blood from his nose and toilet paper from his bathroom activities. When the work was put on a solo show at the Serpentine Gallery in London, some protested and the police shut it down. But Mr. Apple was no prankster. He was deeply serious about his work, which, in addition to carefully documenting his physiological processes, often included refurbishing and refurbishing suggestions to institutions such as the Guggenheim. (He proposed getting rid of his planters; the museum ignored him.)

Back home in New Zealand, where he returned for good in 1990, Mr. Apple began exploring the art market’s transactional nature, branding practices, mapping, and scientific advances in a variety of works. Among the works were an apple made of pure gold, Billy’s Apple coffee and tea (for sale in galleries only) and the “immortization” of cells from his own body, which are now stored in stores. American Type Culture Collection and the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland.

Barry George Bates was born on December 31, 1935, the eldest of four children. His father, Albert George Bates, worked for the New Zealand Post. His mother, Mariza (Petri) Bates, was a housewife who did not allow toys in the house because she did not like mess; Barry improvised what he found in the kitchen cupboards.

He was bullied in school, but he did well in chemistry and drawing. He worked as a commercial artist in Auckland before winning a partial scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London. He asked his girlfriend at the time to write his general studies essay, a fictional conversation between Larry Rivers and Vincent van Gogh at a New York jazz club. Mr Apple’s biographer, Ms Barton, said the paper was an early example of what his method of making art would be: outsourcing.

The dissertation allowed him to earn his degree, although he tore the registrar’s note and skipped the graduation ceremony. (His classmate Mr. Hockney attended in a gold lame jacket.)

While in New York City, Mr. Apple worked contextually for popular advertising agencies of the 1960s and ’70s such as Jack Tinker & Partners and Doyle Dane Bernbach. When Marshall McLuhan guest-edited an issue of Harper’s Bazaar (yes, that happened, in April 1968), Mr. Apple was a contributor. He also opened his own gallery, named Apple.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Apple is survived by his brothers Colin and Tony, and a sister, Judith Bates Marsden. His marriage to Jackie Blum, an American artist, ended in divorce in 1981. Together for 24 years, Ms. Morrison, who is also an artist, and Mr. Apple married a few days before her death.

In 2016, Mr. Apple donated some of his early career bathroom tissue along with contemporary fecal samples to a molecular biologist who was able to determine that nearly half of the bacteria in Mr. Apple’s gut were still in his body decades later. were present, Asziland Herald reported. This was a boon to science, and Mr. Apple also made new discoveries from the study.

Becoming Billy Apple The artist told an interviewer in 2018, “Allowed me to have good subject matter.”

“I could determine what I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t have to look outside myself. As the saying goes, I can build my own brand.”

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