Billy Apple

The Bruce and Denny Show
10 April–10 May 2008

Billy Apple™ is a trademarked art brand. As one of the original pop generation, Billy Apple established his brand in London, circa 1962, when he changed his name and claimed everyday objects and life activities as art. It’s now forty-five years since this self-branding exercise, which resolved for him the vexed question of where does art stop and life start by removing the arbitrary distinction between them.

Billy Apple’s passions are motor racing and good art. Speed, race fuel, precision engineering, racing liveries and corporate sponsorship create the high-end interest, excitement and ideas that he also demands of art. The Billy Apple Historic Race Team – three grand prix race bikes and two racing cars – have all performed in sound works, been exhibited in museums and art galleries and raced on the track.

In his latest exhibition at Two Rooms Gallery in Auckland, Billy Apple again mixes art with life. He has taken real events from one of the most glamorous eras in our motor sports history as his subject. He screens racing footage from the day (Players 200, Mosport Park, Canada, September 1967) and installs one of the gods of speed, the McLaren M8-A, in the gallery. And then, in a double branding manoeuvre, he produces text-based portraits typical of his oeuvre of the Can-Am cars and their champion drivers, who are of course Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. When Bruce McLaren launched his ‘McLaren orange’ on the M5 at Formula One’s 1967 South African Grand Prix, Italian cars were predominantly shades of red and BRG (‘British Racing Green’) with no advertising. Then came the Canadian American Challenge Cup series.

‘The Can-Am cars were moving billboards with sponsorship from companies like Reynolds Aluminum and Gulf Oil.’ Billy Apple has personalised his works with McLaren’s livery colours, while conforming to his own brand of graphics and composition using the golden ratio format and the Futura typeface.

The Bruce and Denny Show was the journalistic headliner splashed across newspapers. McLaren cars dominated, winning twenty-three consecutive races in the Can-Am series. Between them, Bruce and Denny won every race in the 1969 season in their huge orange Group 7 sports racing cars. Billy Apple takes this title and forty years later demonstrates to his audience why this heady mix of art, sound, racing film, ‘av-gas’ perfume and McLaren orange continues to thrill and fascinate when he takes them from the racetrack and into the art gallery.

– Mary Morrison