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At the core of the matter

Born as Barrie Bates of Auckland in 1935, self-rebranded in 1962 as Billy Apple, the pop/conceptual artist, and maker of Excretory Wipings (1970) in which he collected and dated his skid-marked toilet paper, is now the subject of the first substantial book about his career.

Based on over a decade of research from all over the world and unprecedented access to Apple’s own archive, Christina Barton’s book, Billy Apple: Life/Work, chronicles a 60-year career and the art scenes that have sustained it in London, New York and Auckland.

At the Royal College of Art in London from 1959–62, Apple studied with key contemporaries — notably David Hockney — and staged one of the earliest solo exhibitions in the new “pop” art after changing his name in 1962.

“In this self-branding manoeuvre, where he became a work-of-art, he removed the arbitrary distinction between art and life so was able to claim everyday objects (like apples) and life activities (like cleaning and vacuuming) as art,” says a story in an Arts Foundation publication.

Apple’s six-decade idea-driven art career began with pop-related works before developing into a conceptual and process-oriented practice.

In 1964 he moved to New York. In the Big Apple, he worked as an art director, developed his art, exhibited extensively with leading artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and others, and established one of the first alternative art spaces — Apple — which hosted some of the new ephemeral activities that enlivened the New York scene in the 1970s.

Apple returned to live in New Zealand in 1990 where he continues to produce his brand of conceptual art.

Apple’s work is held in permanent collections from the Tate to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Author Christina Barton is director of the Adam Art Gallery Te Pataka Toi at Victoria University where she has taught art history since 1995. She is a respected art historian, writer and curator who has worked at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

She has curated numerous exhibitions, including the major Billy Apple retrospective at Auckland Art Gallery in 2015.

Billy Apple: Life/Work by Christina Barton will be released on October 5, $75.

THE BIG APPLE: Billy Apple: Life/Work, the first substantial book on New Zealand’s most internationally significant living pop/conceptual artist will be released next month. NZ Herald picture