• Billy Apple

Billy Apple, Rainbows 1965 is a partial re-staging of Apple’s ground-breaking solo exhibition Neon Rainbows, first shown at Bianchini Gallery in New York City, 1965 which was credited with being one of the first to treat electric light as a new sculptural medium. Taking the rainbow as its central motif, this show proved Apple’s attraction to new products and advancing technologies, and his fascination for the science of colour and light. For Billy Apple’s Rarotonga iteration of the show, a limited series of light activated Rainbow fluorescent ink/serigraph prints will be shown, together with original posters from the exhibition and a plexiglass Rainbow sculpture.

Billy Apple was born Barrie Bates in Auckland, New Zealand in 1935. He studied at the Royal College of Art, London, from 1959 to 1962 where he was part of Britain’s pop generation. His name change to Billy Apple in 1962 was an art-branding exercise and he had the first solo pop art exhibition in the UK – Apple Sees Red: Live Stills, 1963 (Gallery One, London).

In 1964 Billy Apple moved permanently to New York and became the bridge between the British and American pop art movements. Renowned art dealer Leo Castelli arranged for Paul Bianchini to show his work, which was curated into the seminal exhibition, American Supermarket, 1964 by Ben Birillo, artist and partner in the Bianchini Gallery. This was a groundbreaking installation where art objects were presented using the display techniques of the modern supermarket, repositioning art in relation to the context of commodity culture. It included the great names of American pop art – Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Richard Artschwager, Robert Watts, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselman and Billy Apple..

In 1969, Billy Apple opened the second artist-run alternative space in New York called Apple at 161 West 23rd St and was at the forefront of the emerging conceptual art movement. He exhibited regularly in the New York art scene (112 Greene St Gallery, Leo Castelli Gallery, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and the New Museum) throughout his 26 years of residence there, having gained US citizenship in 1981. On his return to Auckland, New Zealand in 1990, Billy Apple continued to exhibit internationally as well as have works included in survey exhibitions (Tate Liverpool; Museum Fridericianum, Kassel; Queens Museum, New York and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh).

Apple’s second Rarotongan solo show is a tribute to his 1965 NYC exhibition. Rainbows in neon, translucent acrylic and serigraphs on paper were exhibited in Bianchini Gallery’s large internal space in a smart high rise on West 57th St. With no outside windows the only light in the space was produced by the neon rainbows installed on the floor. The additive effect of the neon rainbow colors produced a beautiful bright white light, which if refracted separated back into a rainbow spectrum – all the shadows in the gallery were rainbows.

The show hit the mark in New York. None of the pop artists were working with neon and Billy Apple had taken the rainbow, an icon of pop and electrified it to create white light and rainbow shadows. Robert Pincus-Witten wrote that Billy Apple’s rainbows are among the most beautiful that hover over the present scene (Artforum, February 1966) and components of it were curated into exhibitions at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, Paris and the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.

Mary Morrison | Ben Bergman

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