George Fairley was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on 16 December 1920. His parents, although not wealthy, supported their son when he won a scholarship to Edinburgh College of Art in the late 1930s, where his friend the painter Alan Davie was a contemporary. He was taught by three renowned Royal Scottish Academicians, David Alison, William Gillies and Adam Bruce Thomson. He then studied in the Paris studio of Fernand Léger before leaving to serve in the Second World War as a radar technician in the Royal Air Force. He was involved in the D-Day landings and the Allied push through France and Germany.
After the war, he joined the staff at Swansea College of Art where he remained a lecturer in fine art for over fifteen years, from 1946 to 1962. He was inspired by all forms of art, music and literature and in this respect he was fortunate, as amongst his close circle of friends were Kingsley Amis, Alfred Janes, Daniel Jones, Dylan Thomas, Wynford Vaughan Thomas and Vernon Watkins.
In 1962 Fairley was appointed head of the foundation studies department at Croydon College of Art but remained an associate member of the 56 Group until 1966. He retired from lecturing in 1982, and then moved to a converted windmill in West Sussex with his wife Mary Fairley where he successfully ran art classes for many years. He died there on 23 November 2003.
The works of George Fairley can be found in the following collections:-
Aberystwyth University; Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; Arts Council of Great Britain; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Saidenberg Gallery, New York; Swansea University; University of Warwick; other public and private collections.