Michael Ayrton was born in London, the son of writer Gerald Gould and politician Barbara Ayrton. He studied at Heatherley’s, St John’s Wood School, and in Paris. It is thought he also spent some time working in the studio of de Chirico. He took his mother’s name when his father died ostensibly so that he would appear high on lists at exhibitions. During the Second World War, Ayrton served with the RAF, but this was short-lived as he and his friend John Minton were given leave to design the set and costumes for John Gielgud’s production of Macbeth. He taught drawing and stage design at the Camberwell School of Art from 1942-4. He was influenced by Sutherland and Piper, as well as the Italian painters of the fourteenth century, and the ancient myths, on visits to Italy and Greece. From the early 1950s he began to work on sculpture, which he was just as successful as with his painting.