William Roberts was born in Hackney, London. He worked as an apprentice for the poster and advertising firm of Sir John Causton, taking evening classes at St Martin's School of Art, London before studying at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. There he was influenced by Cubism, but soon after leaving the Slade, was producing work with an emphasis on simplification, flat pattern and strong outline. For a time he worked with one of England's most influential critics of modern art, Roger Fry, painting fabrics and furniture with Cubist designs. He joined a group of artists who called themselves The Rebel Art Club. Their beliefs centred on the necessity of making art reflect the mechanical qualities of modern life. The main features of Roberts' work were already set by this date, and were not to alter substantially for the rest of his life. Tubular limbed figures are shown in group activities, often emphasizing their mechanical qualities, usually brightly coloured and with a strong sense of rhythm: they approximate to a sort of flexible geometry.