Billy Apple Rainbows® 1965 – FAD Magazine

Billy Apple with a 360-degree rainbow at the Chelsea Hotel, New York, 1964, Photographer Richard Paulson, Billy Apple® Archive

In November 1965, Billy Apple (born 1935 – 2021 Auckland, New Zealand) organized his second solo exhibition at the Bianchini Gallery in New York City. This pioneering gallery is credited with being one of the first to treat electric light as a new sculptural medium, a move that then began to stimulate a group of artists working in the USA and Europe. This show took the rainbow as its central element, proving Apple’s attraction to new products and advanced technologies, and its fascination with the science of color and light.

Billy Apple, Rainbow 10, 1964–65 (Photo: Richard Paulson), Billy Apple Archive

The exhibition included seven diverse neon sculptures based on the shape and colors of the rainbow. They are strategically placed across the gallery floor to precisely recreate the shades of the visible spectrum that together make up white light. Along with these floor-based works, Apple included a multicolored version of the rainbow (cergrave stripes that use arcs of glossy fluorescent inks), five free-standing rainbows, some mounted on acrylic cascades, and precisely sized to sit on pedestals or shelves filled with color. Rainbow light as if it exists in the solid and liquid state.

Now, in 2022, The Mayor Gallery will restore Billy Apple’s Rainbow Gallery, having worked with the artist’s wife, Mary Apple, to prepare the surviving works still in the artist’s possession. Featuring four original neon sculptures, a rare semicircular rainbow print, and three glass objects, the exhibition will be the first time Apple’s rainbows are presented together since 1965.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication that documents the original exhibition in full and provides a comprehensive annotated catalog of the works on display in the original.

Billy Apple Double Rainbow 1964-65 Billy Apple® Archive

Rainbow Billy Apple was described by Robert Pincus Witten, writing in Artforum in February 1966, as

“One of the most beautiful hovering over the current scene.”

They were later included in many exhibitions designed to survey the new medium. These include: Art Turned (Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1965), Art Electric, Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, Paris, 1966), and Kunst-Licht-Kunst (curated by Frank Popper for Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1966). Apple’s rainbow frankly refers to the adoption of the rainbow as a symbol in the 1960s, particularly its appropriation as a symbol of peace in the era of anti-war protest. That’s long before the rainbow’s role as a symbol of gay liberation and now the LGTBQI+ community. However, Apple’s real attraction to the science of natural phenomena and his eager desire to go beyond traditional paints or pigments and investigate what he called an “electric palette” could work, like the refraction and reflection of light through raindrops, the immaterial emanation of pure color.

Apple’s curiosity about neon’s potential began early in his career (circa 1957), when he was working in advertising in New Zealand and used the new medium as a modern style for signage. He used his neon glass-bending skills thereafter and during his student years at the Royal College of Art in London (1959-1962) and immediately thereafter, using London-based Brilliant Signs Ltd, to make at least three neons for him. Pop pools.

In New York, where he moved in 1964, Apple lived in Bowery, in the heart of the Lighting District and soon established contacts with technicians, manufacturers, and retailers who could help him experiment with painted glass tubes and mixing inert gases for his sculptures. Apple has been part of a short-lived wave of interest in electric light as an artistic medium. Between 1965 and 1972, his fascination with neon was a crucial dimension in his transition from making discrete art objects, which contributed to the development of the pop language, to working with spaces and materials, where he transformed into an action-oriented practice in harmony with art. agendas that prevailed in the early seventies.

This is Billy Apple’s fourth solo show at The Mayor Gallery and the first posthumously of its kind. The gallery was in discussion with the artist in 2021 when we heard the news of his passing on September 6, 2021.

‘Billy Apple® Rainbows 1965’ The Mayor Gallery 21 Cork Street, First Floor, London W1S 3LZ May 18 – July 27 2022 Special Show Wednesday May 18 2022, 6-8pm

About the artist

Billy Apple was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1935. He lived in London between 1959 and 1964 and moved to New York in August of that year, where he resided until 1990. From 1990 until his death last year, Apple was based in Auckland, New Zealand, He has had a busy career, exhibiting his work both nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions. A large two-part survey at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam in 2009 reintroduced the artist to European audiences, and in 2015 organized the Auckland art fair Toi o T? maki is a substantial retrospective. Apple is represented in major groups in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and New Zealand. Widely known as a pioneer of pop art and conceptual art, his work has been included in International Pop (Walker Center for the Arts, Minneapolis, 2015) and Universal Concepts: Points of Origin from the 1950s to the 1980s (Queens Museum, New York, 1999). Mayor Gallery recently arranged for the sale of his work to Tate Britain, London, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia.

Billy Apple® Life/Work, a study on the artist by art historian and curator Christina Barton, was published by Auckland University Press, Auckland, and Circle Books, New York, in 2020.




Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the founder and editor of FAD Magazine. Founder and co-publisher of Art of Conversation and founder of the platform worldoffad

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