Ashley Bickerton, known for his biting, wildly inventive parodies of consumerism and island fantasy, died November 30 at his home in Bali at the age of sixty-three. Bickerton had been diagnosed with the degenerative motor-neuron disease ALS in 2021. News of his death was confirmed by Gagosian, which began representing him earlier this year. Noted for his so-called self-portraits—canvases and crates emblazoned with multiple corporate logos—Bickerton in the 1980s rose to fame alongside fellow so-called neo-geo artists Jeff Koons, Peter Halley, and Meyer Vaisman before departing the New York art scene in 1993 for the island of Bali. “I wanted to start doing paintings,” he told Time Out in 2017, “and it had gotten to the point where there were too many damn social obligations to do the harder studio work painting entails.”
Ashley Bickerton was born in Barbados in 1959 to a field linguist father and a behavioral psychologist mother. His childhood was peripatetic, with the family moving to South America and Africa before settling in Honolulu. Bickerton in the late 1970s moved to the US mainland, earning his BA from the California Institute of Arts in 1982 and then moving on to New York, where he participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program. He began working for Pictures Generation artist Jack Goldstein, and thus gained entrée to what he described as the “cultural mafia of the moment.” Pushing back against the graffiti and neo-expressionist art then popular on the city’s downtown scene, he began creating assemblages bearing the logos of various carmakers, sneaker brands, publications, and other business interests.
“Parody has always been in my work,” he told Artforum’s Lauren O’Neill Butler in 2013. “In the 1980s, I was parodying Judd’s boxes, making them into slick consumables covered in logos—which were the iconography of that era, just as they are the iconography of our present day. I decided to turn Judd’s stripped-down object into exactly what it was: something to be photographed, something to be bought, something to be sold, something to be blatant with its own history, its own manner.” Bickerton characterized these works variously as “self-portraits,” “commercial pieces,” and “anthropospheres”; a number of them featured his own “brand” name, Susie Culturelux. Typically rendered as just SUSIE, the name for Bickerton functioned as an “Index/Name Brand/Artistic Signature” to which art historians writing about his work could cling.
Bickerton continued to make what he termed “commodity art” throughout the 1980s; in 1993, aiming to turn away from the assemblages on which he’d made his name toward more complex modes of representation, he decamped for Bali, where he would operate a studio until his death. There, he took the natural environment and postcolonialism as his subjects, creating vividly hued paintings that starred humans and their detritus as destroyers of Earth. In 2012, he partnered with the Yogyakarta Art Lab, run by Singapore’s Gajah Gallery, to create a series of “mitochondrial” sculptures rendered first in clay and then in cast aluminum. Describing a 2017 retrospective of Bickerton’s work mounted by Damien Hirst at Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in London, Artforum’s Linda Yablonsky wrote that “Bickerton’s sculptures are not stuffed so much as irradiated by bright color,” noting, “Life in the Pacific clearly has inspired him.”
Bickerton’s work is held in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney, both in New York; Tate, London; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Berardo Collection Museum in Lisbon; and the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris, among other institutions. Though he was never, as he told Los Angeles Magazine last year, the “subject of any curatorial bukaki [sic] party,” he enjoyed a resurgence of interest in his oeuvre in recent years, thanks to high-powered fans including Hirst, Jordan Wolfson, and others. This was embodied by solo exhibitions at such of-the-moment galleries as New York’s O’Flaherty’s and LA’s Various Small Fires as well as by his representation by Gagosian, which is planning an exhibition of his work in 2023.
Bickerton to the last remained driven not by the market but by an internal mechanism, remarking to FLAG Art Gallery, which staged a show of his work in 2017, “In a long and often breathless career, I feel I’ve pursued every reckless tangent with utterly no fidelity to any stylistic cohesion, but nevertheless in this tangle I knew inherently there was a larger overarching language that was distinctly my own.”