Robert Adams was born in Northampton and studied life drawing at the local art school. In the late 1940s he visited Paris where he met Brancusi and Laurens amongst others, before taking up a teaching post at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. He had his first solo exhibition at Gimpel Fils, London in 1947 and his work was shown at the XXVI Venice Biennale in 1952 and again in 1962 as a retrospective exhibition. He undertook a number of large commissions throughout his working life in Europe and the United States for schools, banks, churches and the P&O liner SS Canberra; in 1951 he was commissioned to produce a 3m high carving for the Festival of Britain.

It was whilst teaching industrial design at the Central School of Arts and Crafts that he began to work with metal and learnt to weld. He was grouped with artists such as Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick and Reg Butler, whose work was memorably described by Herbert Read as belonging to the "iconography of despair. Here are images of flight, of ragged claws, ‘scuttling across floors of silent seas’, of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear." But his work was more representative of an art in which intuition is controlled by clarity and formal discipline. Although his sculptures were abstract, they were based on the interplay of angular or circular forms found in nature rather than on the calculations of geometry.