Philip Sutton was born in Poole, Dorset, England on 20 October 1928 and grew up in Leyton, East London. He left school at fourteen and worked in a drawing office before carrying out three years of national service, during which he was involved with the Berlin Airlift. With his ex-serviceman's grant, he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art (1949-52) under William Coldstream, winning the 1952 Summer Composition Prize and scholarships that enabled his travel to Spain, France and Italy, before he returned to teach at the Slade between 1954 and 1963. He also travelled widely on painting trips to Australia, Fiji, Crete, Ireland and Cornwall. In 1956, following an introduction by Coldstream, he held his first solo show at the art dealers Roland, Browse and Delbanco, with whom he subsequently exhibited throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as well as at the Geffrye Museum, London (1959), Leeds City Art Gallery (1960), in Newcastle, Bradford and Edinburgh (1961), and at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield (1971). He has participated in mixed exhibitions at Ben Uri Gallery, including the 'Tercentenary Exhibition of Contemporary Anglo-Jewish Artists' (1956), the selling exhibition 'Pictures for the Home' (1965) and 'Graphics' (1967).

In 1977 the BBC Arena Programme made a film about the artist and a retrospective was held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, followed by his first exhibition in Paris at Galerie Joel Salaun in 1988. Sutton has received commissions including the design for two tapestries at West Dean College (1984 and 1986), a poster of Soho for London Transport, and a set of stamps for the Post Office in 1987. In 1986 he began painting ceramics and was commissioned by Pentagram to paint a wall of tiles at the Art Tile Factory, Stoke-on-Trent: an exhibition of his painted ceramics was held at Odette Gilbert Gallery, London in 1987. In 1995 he began work on a series of paintings on William Shakespeare, which continued for three years. In 1988 he was elected a Royal Academician.

Philip Sutton lives and works in Pembrokeshire, Wales.