Billy Apple and Me
I first wrote about Billy’s exhibition “Good as Gold at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1991 and endeared myself to him by comparing him to Michelangelo. This was not in connection with the Renaissance masters work but the way in which he focused on the everyday in his writings. Here he was interested in the price of common goods, art supplies, food and wine.
In 2010 in an article which referred to the deification of Billy Apple I compared him to artists who immortalise themselves with self-portraits such as Michelangelo with his painting of his own flayed skin in the Sistine Chapel’s “The Last Judgement” or Velazquez including himself in “Las Meninas”. This was in connection to his work with the scientist Craig Hilton. I noted that Billy would be preserving his image in a more novel way, preserving biological cells extracted from his blood with some of his 40 million cells being kept forever.
I wrote an article in 2011 about Minter Ellison Rudd Watts text painting with black and white lettering on a red background which bears the words “$100,000 Credit Held By Billy Apple For Legal Servicers From Minter Ellison”. This was one of the artist’s major transactional works It was negotiated in 2008 with artist using the credit to employ MERW staff to register his name as a trademark.
In 2012 which was the 50-year anniversary of the Billy Apple® brand he worked with Waiheke winemakers to produce the Billy Apple®: Official Selection which featured premium red wines from the 2010 vintage from the Waiheke vineyards of Kennedy Point, Man O’War, Miro, Obsidian, Peacock Sky and Poderi Crisci.
I noted that the 50 cases were numbered from 1962 through to 2012, the years of his practice and were priced accordingly: $1962 for gallery members and $2012 for non-members. The design of the case, and the layout of the show, will also followed one of his defining traits in using the Golden Section.
Billy had previously produced his Good as Gold golden rosé with Robard and Butler which came either as a single 375ml bottle or a case of sixteen.
In 2015 in reviewing “The Artist has To Live Like Everybody Else” I noted that audiences could get to see the artist “work” without entering the gallery as for the duration of his exhibition the artist had been allocated a parking space on the forecourt of the Auckland Art Gallery. How do you get Auckland Transport and a host of bureaucrats to agree to something like that? It’s all part of the mystery, magic and manipulation of the artist who doesn’t get to live like everybody else.
Altogether I wrote about a dozen reviews of Billy’s work including a review of the film “Being Billy Apple “. This was one of the “one minute” video reviews I did on the NBR film review site
Every time I wrote something about Billy I would get a phone call as he wanted a copy and not just the article itself. He needed to have the full copy of the paper.
I worked with Billy on a few projects for National Business Review. The first of these was a page work around his notion of “The Artists has to live like everybody else”
The work ended up being on what would have been the back page of the paper but was actually two pages in from the back as another project I was engaged at the time with NBR was a wrap-around for the paper promoting the 1993 exhibition “Rembrandt to Renoir” at the Auckland Art Gallery.
This wrap-around meant the advertiser who was going to be on the last page of the paper no longer had their prime position and declined to proceed so there was no advert to go on the final page. Discussion with the editor Nevil Gibson, owner Barry Colman, Wystan Curnow and Billy meant I was able to do a rush job and got the full (back)page for Billy. This “The Artists has to live like everybody else” piece was Billy’s first page work in a financial paper and we also produced a limited edition of over runs printed on clean paper.
Barry Colman was slightly mystified as to why I kept trying to get NBR sponsor / promote Billy and was also curious about another deal we did with Billy, paying for his airfare to Australia to attend on of his exhibitions. In return NBR got Billy’s duplicate Air NZ ticket. This was one of the then current style of tickets with red printing, a colour which worked well for Billy at the time but ultimately faded.
Barry Colman was delighted a few years later when the framed ticket with its acknowledgement of NBR was used as advertising material for an overseas show of New Zealand art.
I also worked with Billy on a poster for a political campaign when I stood for the ACT Party in the Auckland City Council elections in 1992. This ACT Party was the Auckland Community Team and used the acronym two years before the present ACT Party was formed in 1994.
Between 2005 and 2012 I worked with Bob McMillan BMW, commissioning artists to paint on the display bonnets of BMW Series 7. Each year these ten works were auctioned for various charities
I was aware that Billy was interested in being asked to work on one of these but I also realised that Billy was always very particular about how he went about commissioned works and the difficulties that could ensue so didn’t ask. However, he approached Bob McMillan directly (who serviced his Mini) about being involved and Bob agreed.
Normally with the bonnet commissioned I would deliver the unpainted bonnet to the artist and then collect the completed work a couple of months later. This was not how Billy worked.
First, he required that bonnet be spray painted by an official BMW approved spray painter in the specific white he wanted. The painted bonnet was then to have two apple logos painted by his painter, Terry Maitland. The diameter of these apples was to be the same as those of the Series 7 headlights. I told Billy I would measure them. Again, that was not how it was done. He required facsimile of the original design drawings of the car to be sent from Germany which would include the actual dimensions.
At the exhibition of the works Billy was a bit upset that I wouldn’t agree to have his work hung so that the two circular apple logos were not at the height the two “headlights” would have been above the road surface. At the auction Billy’s work sold for over $10,000, one of the highest prices paid for one of the bonnets
When I was Arts Manager at Manukau City I curated “The Alphabet Show” where artists were sent a single sheet of A4 drawing paper and were asked to draw/paint the first letter of their surname. Billy did a set of lower case “a” for the show.
One commission from that time never came to fruition. One of the Manukau City art galleries, Nathan Homestead had extensive outside areas where sculptural shows were held. One area was the old grass tennis court. Billy was going to use the principles of the Golden Section to turn the area into one of his art works. The project involved placing the net at the point of division based on the Golden Section ratio. A couple of his requirements were going to pose problems. There would need to be a new tennis net which conformed to his measurements and new stanchions to support it. The other issue concerned the lawnmower which would be used to cut the grass. The grass on one side of the net would be cut at one height and the grass on the other side at another height – again determined by the Golden Section ratio.
What had Billy overly concerned was the fact that the lawnmower adjustments were in inches. This meant that we would have to design a new system of adjustment which would have millimetres in order for the grass to be cut to the right height.
It was at this point I sent Billy a letter saying that I was not proceeding with the project as I would not be able to do justice to it.
Over the years I have collected a few of Billy smaller works including the ACT political poster, some of his prints, as well as his coffee and wine. I also have one of his “The Artist has to live like everybody else”. This is a handwritten note on an envelope which had been sent to him asking me to go over to the North Shore and pay Bernie for the repair to his car.