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Born in Hammersmith, Spear attended the local art school before going on to the Royal College of Art in 1930. He began his teaching career at Croydon School of Art, going on to teach at the Royal College of Art from 1948 to 1975.
Because he used a wheelchair due to childhood polio, much of his work focused on his immediate surroundings. He rendered the citizens of Hammersmith relaxing in and around the local pubs, theatres and shops. A retrospective of Spear's work was held at the Royal Academy in 1980. His work is represented in the Tate Gallery Collection.
A large number of Spear's paintings are held in important public collecions, including the Government Art Collection, Arts Council England, National Portrait Gallery, Imperial War Museum and the Royal Academy of Arts.
He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979.
Spear is the father of musician Roger Ruskin Spear.
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