The Whanganui arts community is saddened by the death of world-renowned pop and conceptual artist Billy Apple.
The artist, who was 85, died in Auckland on Monday.
Born Barrie Bates in Auckland in 1935, he changed his name to Billy Apple in 1962 while he was a student at the Royal College of Art in London.
Apple's art made a splash on the world stage alongside the work of artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Jasper Johns.
He returned to New Zealand in the mid-1970s to exhibit his work and was invited back by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council for a tour of his The Given as an Art Political Statement exhibition which came to the Sarjeant Gallery in the summer of 1980.
Whanganui artist Paul Rayner who was a young gallery officer at the time recalls that Apple ruffled some feathers in the Whanganui arts community.
"He ordered the removal of The Wrestlers statue from beneath the central dome where it had been for 58 years to make way for his exhibition," Rayner remembers.
"A lot of people were upset but I thought it was exciting because it opened the way for other exhibitions to be installed in that space."
Bill Milbank who was the Sarjeant director at the time said he had kept in touch with Apple over the years and was shocked to learn he had died.
"I saw him quite recently and he was still very sharp and witty."
Milbank recalls that the artist wanted to make his permanent mark on Whanganui 40 years ago.
"Because he had been born with the surname 'Bates' he wanted Bates St in Whanganui to be renamed 'Apple' St.
"He was in contact with someone who was in the business of developing new apple varieties and he was working with him to breed a variety named 'Billy', said Milbank.
"When I asked him about it later he said the apple turned out to be not a 'good keeper'."
Milbank said he understood the artist's vision was to have Billy apple trees growing on Apple St.
While those apples didn't eventuate, a few years later the artist instigated the creation of a 22-carat gold apple which sold for $85,000 and was the most expensive work by a living New Zealand artist at the time.
Since returning to live in New Zealand permanently in 1990 Apple had raised over $1m for charities and would become an Arts Foundation Icon and an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Apple came to Whanganui for Artists Open Studios in 2016 and served alongside Adrian Hailwood as a judge to select a winning artwork for the catalogue cover that year.
The contest was won by Castlecliff artist Amy Fitzgerald who was named at a ceremony held at NZ Glassworks in Rutland St.
"It was such an honour to meet him," Glassworks manager Scott Redding said.
"He really changed the profile of art in New Zealand and I'm so glad he chose to come back and live here."
Apple recently had a major retrospective exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, where his work is part of the permanent collection.
A book on his life and work written by Christina Barton was published in November 2020 by Auckland University Press.
While Whanganui may not have a street or fruit trees in remembrance of Billy Apple there are a number of his works in the Sarjeant Gallery's permanent collection.