Hayter was born in Hackney, London. Between 1918 and 1921 he read Chemistry and Geology at Kings College in London and in 1926 he moved to Paris and opened a printmaking workshop. Hayter’s first one-man show opened the following year at the Galerie Sacre du Printemps. In 1940 he moved to New York and over the next decade opened two branches of his printmaking business there, by then known as Atelier 17. Amongst those who worked with Hayter at Atelier 17 were Chagall, Dali, Miro, De Kooning, Pollock and Rothko.
The first major exhibition of Hayter’s work, ‘Hayter and Studio 17’, was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1944. In 1957 a retrospective exhibition of Hayter’s work opened at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. Hayter was awarded an OBE in 1959 and a CBE in 1968.
Hayter learned the art of engraving from the Polish artist Joseph Hecht whilst in Paris. The aspect of line was key to Hayter’s work. The free-form, unconscious flow of line in his paintings, drawings and prints was undoubtedly influenced by the ideas of the Surrealists, with whom Hayter exhibited during the 1930s. The stirrings of Fascism in Europe and the civil war in Spain account for the recurring signs of terror and aggression that run through Hayter’s work during the 1930s. Hayter’s style became progressively more abstract, confirming his name amongst the Abstract Expressionists.