Billy Apple

Billy Apple

Self Portraits 1962-67

6 August - 29 August 1997

Curated by Wystan Curnow

Late in 1962, a young New Zealander, just out of the Royal College of Art, London, launched his campaign as an artist with a change of name and identity. Plain Barrie Bates became Billy Apple, artist, and, with the help of Lady Clairol Instant Creme Whip, a blond. He changed his name and look as a company might change its corporate colours or update its logo. The portraits in this show were made to promote the new identity.


Apple's practice has always been closer to that of the advertising art director than the studio artist. Production is contracted out. The photos used for the self-portraits were taken by the photographer, Robert Freeman—later famous for his five Beatles album covers—and the portraits were printed by Roy Crossett, photo-lithographer at the Royal College. Though the portraits are on canvas, they are not paintings, but offset lithographs—a method used for commercial printing. All works present the same two images, passport-style mugshots taken from front and back. The red, yellow, and blue plates have been printed in and out of register, generating various effects: a bronzed Apple, a skull head Apple, a lycanthropic Apple. A hybrid of painting, photography, and printmaking, these works belong to the history of pop art and the time of Apple's close association with other young artists in London and New York who were making that history, especially David Hockney, Richard Smith, Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol. 


At Artspace, the portraits are accompanied by another ‘signature’ piece, a 1962 neon sculpture, A Is For Apple. Recalling the neon signs used by American beer companies, Apple says this work was one of a number of further 'visual aids made to reinforce the name change'. The presence of this work affirms that Apple is neither a painter nor a sculptor, but an idea artist, a conceptual artist who is happy to use any medium to further his explorations.