Ashley Bickerton, an artist’s artist almost as well known for quitting New York as for his colorful oeuvre of mixed-media provocation and mischief, died on Nov. 30 at his home in Bali, Indonesia. He was 63.
His gallery, Gagosian, said the cause was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which he had learned he had just a year ago.
Mr. Bickerton achieved renown early, appearing alongside Peter Halley, Meyer Vaisman and Jeff Koons in an influential 1986 group show at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. The show was considered a landmark of “Neo-Geometric Conceptualism,” or Neo-Geo, a half-joking term for a group defined by its love-hate relationships with consumerism, the art market, machines and the techniques of its Conceptual, Neo-Expressionist and Minimalist predecessors.
As Mr. Bickerton recalled in a 2003 interview, “We were cool — or cold — and we were against ‘them.’”
Writing in The New York Times, the critic Roberta Smith described Mr. Bickerton’s pieces in that show as “the most bumptious, engaging and least didactic on view.”
They included a wooden plank marked with golden enamel silhouettes of toilets and sinks that he labeled “abstract” (“Abstract Painting for People #3”) and a luggage-like box, painted with a wild mix of logos — everything from Marlboro cigarettes to the New York public television station Channel 13 — that he signed with the name of an alter ego: “Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles).”
But in 1993, Mr. Bickerton left the scene that had feted him, landing briefly in Brazil before settling in Bali. Whether because of his strong association with a particular late-1980s moment, or because of the New York art world’s own insularity, the decision was one he was steadily asked about for the rest of his life. Over the years he gave various explanations.
An avid surfer who had spent his adolescence in Hawaii and most of his peripatetic childhood in the tropics, Mr. Bickerton cited his comfort with Bali’s weather and his interest in its waves. He mentioned a discouraging dip in the art market, and in his own reputation, after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and an accumulation of social obligations, like attending “your ex-assistant’s boyfriend’s opening,” that had made it hard to spend his evenings painting.
Then there were the burdens of early fame, and the indelible Neo-Geo label itself, which he had never particularly liked. (He preferred “Commodity Art.”) But last year, in a characteristically forthright interview with Los Angeles magazine, he mentioned what might have been the most salient factor:
“Divorce,” he said. “Nothing makes people change geography like love.”
It can confirm geography, too. In Bali Mr. Bickerton found love again, and he recently had a daughter. He is survived by his wife, Cherry Saraswati Bickerton; their daughter, Io; and two sons from prior relationships, Django and Kamahele; as well as his mother, Yvonne Justin Bickerton, and his siblings, James …….