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Born in Johannesburg, his first solo exhibition in 1945 established his reputation in South Africa. In 1952 he was awarded a travel grant to the USA. In 1956 he took part in the Venice Biennale, before travelling in Europe. During this period he had solo exhibitions at the Drian Gallery in London, as well as in Paris, Ibiza and South Africa. In 1967 Portway settled in St. Ives and began an association with the Marjorie Parr Gallery there and in London. His work is in the collections of the Tate Gallery, V&A Museum and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and many other galleries in the UK and abroad.