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Though his only formal artistic training was from night classes at St Martin's School of Art during 1927-8, he exhibited in the 'Daily Express' Young Artists Exhibition at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1927. During a visit to Cornwall in 1928 he studied briefly with Stanhope Forbes in Newlyn and was introduced to Ben and Winifred Nicholson and Christopher Wood, then staying, along with Marcus and Irene Brumwell, in Feock.
He was in contact with
Nicholson throughout the 1930s, though work prevented him from making
more than the occasional visit to his Hampstead studio. He qualified as
a doctor in 1930 and, after working in a number of hospitals, was the GP
for the Scilly Isles from 1936 to 1945. During the war he was able to
make occasional visits to Nicholson and Hepworth in St Ives where he
also met Naum Gabo, who became a major and lasting influence upon him.
At the end of the war, with a new confidence in his recent work, he
chose to pursue a career as a full-time artist, buying one of Forbes's
former studios in Newlyn.
During the 1950s he was included in mixed exhibitions in Britain and abroad and, in 1958, was awarded the Art Critics' Prize, British Section, by the International Association of Art Critics. However, always a diffident figure, Wells resisted joining a gallery until, in 1960, the Waddington Galleries gave him his first one-person exhibition in London. Despite the success of that show, a second in 1964, in which Wells showed more 'austere', 'hard-edged' work, roused scant interest amongst critics or collectors.
In 1965 Wells acquired a
second studio in Newlyn which he shared for nearly thirty years with the
sculptor Denis Mitchell. After 1964 his work had little exposure outside
Cornwall until the revival of interest in St Ives artists, marked most
clearly by the Tate Gallery's 1985 exhibition St Ives: 25 Years of
Painting, Sculpture and Pottery, which included seven works by Wells.
Although critical opinion of Wells's work has varied, Alan Bowness
suggested in 1972 that his 'paintings and constructions ... have a
purity and a quality that substantiate the claim that he is the most
neglected major figure of the period' (Decade 40's: Painting, Sculpture
and Drawing in Britain 1940-49, exh. cat., Arts Council 1972).