New Zealand art world remembers influential artist Billy Apple, dead aged 85

An Auckland painting assistant who would go on to become one of the world's most influential pop artists has died aged 85. 

Billy Apple was a pioneer of conceptual art in the 60s and 70s, collaborating with the likes of Andy Warhol. 

Born Barrie Bates, the artist from Auckland had already made a name for himself in London when he decided to change his name to Billy Apple in a self-branding art project. 

He produced six decades of work under that name. 

Art historian Tina Barton helped him sort through his archive for a 2007 documentary.

"Anyone who can live for more than 60 years in a dedicated way to continuing an art project that began in the early 1960s is an extraordinary enterprise and achievement and I can't think of anyone else who has done that in the way he has," she told Newshub.

Billy Apple challenged the idea of the price of art versus its value.  

Artist Hamish Keith said Apple "became a conscience for the art world". 

Everyday bills, invoices became the canvas for the slogan: "The artist has to live like everybody else."

On his return to New Zealand, Apple would attend every exhibition opening. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. 

Auckland Art Gallery director Kirsten Lacy said Apple was "generous with his time and energy and insight". 

"He always was supportive towards people and enthusiastic and it was infectious."

His support and work laid a pathway for aspiring young artists. He also literally paved the road to one of our most iconic stadiums, Eden Park. 

One walkway bears his name and the black and white tiles were designed to capture the Kiwi spirit, in North Island basalt and South Island silica. 

He was designing until the very end - including his own memorial with friends at the Auckland Art Gallery when it was clear illness was ending his life. 

COVID-19 lockdowns will delay the service but as one of his famous works attests - Billy Apple's influence is going nowhere.