Humphrey Ocean studied at Canterbury College of Art from 1970 to 1973. During that time, he played bass with Kilburn and the Highroads, supporting The Who on their 1973 Christmas Tour. His first major solo exhibition in 1984 at the National Portrait Gallery, London was followed by shows at Tate Liverpool, Whitechapel Gallery, London and, in 2003, How’s My Driving at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London. In 2013 his series of new portraits, A handbook of modern life, was shown at the National Portrait Gallery; I’ve No Idea Either, Sims Reed Gallery, London in 2018; Birds, Cars and Chairs at the Royal Academy of Arts, 2019.
Other projects include a book with anthropologist Stephen Nugent Big Mouth: The Amazon Speaks about their visit to Northern Brazil; Today’s Nude with Artangel in 2009; and Art Everywhere with the Art Fund in 2013 (one of Britain’s 57 favourite paintings across the country on billboards). In 2016 he wrote and presented The Essay for BBC Radio 3 and was made an Honorary Doctor by the University of Kent. In 2018 he showed a Dot Book in Drawing Together at the Courtauld Gallery and a new sculpture Natural History at Royal Academy of Arts in From Life. A major monograph Humphrey Ocean with an essay by Ben Thomas was published by the Royal Academy in 2019, as well as Humphrey Ocean: A Book of Birds. He also appeared on BBC Radio 4 Start the Week: Freud, Hogarth, Ocean. In 2020 he showed in Me, Myself and I at Christine König Galerie, Vienna.
He was the Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective from 2012-2020.
Humphrey Ocean lives and works in London.