Gwyther Irwin was born at Basingstoke, Hampshire, but grew up at Trebetherick, on the Cornish coast. At school he was taught by the painter Roger Hilton. He studied first at Goldsmiths College and from 1951-54 at Central School in Holborn. During the 1950s he experimented with European avant-garde styles such as art brut, graffiti and the found image. His first solo show in London in 1959 was critically acclaimed and, in 1964, he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. From 1969-1984 he was head of fine art at Brighton College of Art. A retrospective in 1987 and inclusion in major survey shows at the Barbican (1993) and Tate Britain (2004) were tempered by the onset of Alzheimer's disease. He died in Trebetherick in 2008.
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