Born in St Ives, Cornwall, in 1918, Peter Lanyon was the only son of W H Lanyon, amateur photographer and musician. He was educated at St Erbyn’s School, Penzance Clifton College, and at the Penzance School of Art. He then met Adrian Stokes who likely first introduced him gave him to contemporary painting and sculpture and advised him to go to the Euston Road School. Lanyon took his advice and in 1938 studied at Euston Road School for four months under Victor Pasmore. He then met Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo who had moved to St Ives on the outbreak of war and received private art lessons from Ben Nicholson.
Throughout the 1940s the influence of Nicholson and Gabo remained strongly visible in Lanyon’s work. During the first half of the decade he served in the Royal Air Force in the Western Desert, what was then known as Palestine, and Italy. He had his first one-man exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery in 1950. He then began teaching at the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham (until 1957) where William Scott was senior painting master.
While Lanyon was becoming increasingly conscious of the English landscape, traditional American art sped his development towards a looser and more open kind of painting. In 1959 he began to develop his ‘gliding’ technique, as he explained, ‘to get a more complete knowledge of the landscape.’ Lanyon’s paintings are, like his personality, full of inconsistencies and ambiguities. He objected to his work being categorised as either abstract or representational.