Presented to Tate by the Contemporary Art Society. Born in New Zealand, Billy Apple was resident and working in London at the beginning of the 1960s, during which time he was a student at the Royal College of Art. This was a crucial period for the development of pop art in Britain. Apple’s formulation and subsequent enactment as an art work of his change of identity from Barrie Bates to Billy Apple in 1962, alongside his wider contribution to the developing language of pop art – dovetailing issues of commodification and identity – is singular within British art history and coincidentally prefigures the similar concerns of appropriation artists of the 1980s. His work complicates existing narratives of pop art in Britain, and it will be used in displays at all Tate sites focusing on this period and on pop art in particular, as well as for displays addressing issues of portraiture, identity and aesthetic choice.
Self Portraits (Apple Sees Red on Green), 1962 was included in Apple’s solo exhibition Apple Sees Red: Live Stills at Gallery One, London in April 1963. The work exemplifies Apple’s individual manifestation of pop art, which drew on the language of advertising to convey his own re-branding as a way of blurring the distinctions between art and life, as much as between people and products or commodities. The work is from a series of 12 near-identical canvases that incorporate colour photographs of Apple taken by Robert Freeman. These portraits show front and back views of Apple’s blonde-topped head, the two images printed side by side near the top of a portrait-format canvas. The images were printed using offset lithography. These works were originally hung together at head-height in Apple’s first solo exhibition. With this work Apple portrays himself as mug shot, pin up and product – heralding a new commodity brand straight off the production line, one of a number of such objects conveying his re-invented self identity, his new Billy Apple brand, that were included in the same exhibition.