Billy Apple’s Appropriation And David Hockney’s Lady Clairol Hair

"I didn't want to spend 10 years learning how to mould a peeled banana. There were people around who were fantastic at doing it ... It has always been like that: the idea is paramount" - Billy Apple

Relation of Aesthetic Choice to Life Activity (Function) of the Subject, Billy Apple, 1961-2. From Tate Britain

Relation of Aesthetic Choice to Life Activity (Function) of the Subject, Billy Apple, 1961-2. From Tate Britain

I’m indebted to Tate Liverpool curator Darren Pih for the connection between a photograph which appeared in ARK 33 – the edition of the Royal College Of Art magazine – and a contemporaneous work by the artist Billy Apple.

 

Opening spread of Branscombe’s photo story Drunk Twist/Twist Drunk, Ark 33, Autumn 1962

Opening spread of Branscombe’s photo story Drunk Twist/Twist Drunk, Ark 33, Autumn 1962

Pih points out that Apple’s 1961-2 piece ‘Relation Of Aesthetic Choice To Life Activity (Function) Of The Subject’ appropriates the portrait of a uniformed customs officer which appeared in Keith Branscombe’s ARK photo-story ‘Twist Drunk/Drunk Twist’.

 

Branscombe’s portrait was printed on a tracing paper insert into the magazine decorated with a lipstick kiss

Branscombe’s portrait was printed on a tracing paper insert into the magazine decorated with a lipstick kiss

ark 33 cover art magazine

Apple later explained that since the work depicted “a customs officer who inspects baggage, often making arbitrary decisions about who to check… I selected one of four photographs of the officer and ‘checked’ it with red neon, singling it out for specific inspection”.

 

Barrie Bates and David Hockney, Coney Island, New York 1961. Photo Billy Apple from noted.co.nz

Barrie Bates and David Hockney, Coney Island, New York 1961. Photo Billy Apple from noted.co.nz

Apple studied at the college between 1959 and 1962 as the New Zealander Barrie Bates. His adoption of the Billy Apple identity occurred after graduation; this had started the previous year when he and fellow student David Hockney visited New York, where they came across the hair colouring product Lady Clairol Instant Crème Whip. This was to transform both their appearances. Bates officially became Apple when he bleached his hair and eyebrows using the Clairol dye on November 22, 1962.

 

Self Portraits (Apple Sees Red on Green) 1962 Billy Apple

Self Portraits (Apple Sees Red on Green) 1962 Billy Apple

 

According to the Tate’s senior modern and contemporary art curator Andrew Wilson, the title of the work which uses the Branscombe image “provides a commentary surrounding the decisions [Apple] made when formulating this shift of identity”.

Relation Of Aesthetic Choice To Life Activity (Function) Of The Subject was in Apple’s first solo exhibition, Apple Sees Red: Live Stills in 1963.

Having appeared in such groundbreaking shows as The American Supermarket with Warhol and Lichtenstein in New York the following year, Apple has exhibited the world over and remained active since his return to Auckland in 1990.

Read Anthony Byrt’s fascinating 2015 interview with Apple, entitled The Immortal Artist, here.

Apple’s website, which lists only his name and an apple logo, is here.

Read more from Wilson on Apple’s artwork here.