Born in England in 1901, Hayter studied chemistry and geology at King's College, London, and subsequently spent three years working for an oil company. He pursued his long-standing desire to become an artist in 1926 when he moved to Paris, took up with the surrealists, painted, and learned printmaking—in particular, the age-old technique of line engraving. Hayter was captivated by the surrealists' dreamlike imagery and their reliance on the subconscious mind to spur creativity.
In Paris in 1927 Hayter set up a print workshop, Atelier 17, where he invited artists to investigate the expressive and technical potential of engraving and etching. With the outbreak of World War II, Hayter joined the exodus to New York, where he taught at the New School for Social Research and reestablished Atelier 17 in lower Manhattan. European surrealists found a community of émigrés there while American artists were inspired by the European avant-garde.
Hayter returned to Paris in 1950 and was making inventive abstractions by the early 1960s that rival the visual brilliance of op art—many imbued with electric, even dissonant, color and dazzling moiré patterns. Hayter was knighted and received the Légion d'honneur in 1951, and was chosen to represent Great Britain at the 1958 Venice Biennale. He became Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 1967. He died in Paris in 1988.
Black, Peter and Desiree Moorhead. The Prints of Stanley William Hayter: A Complete Catalogue. Mount Kisco, NY, 1992.