Anthea Alley was born in Malaya. She studied at Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art, moving gradually from figuration to abstraction in both her paintings and sculpture. She is most famous for her sculpture, an art form in which she was self-taught. Having learnt to weld, from the early 1960s she made a series of sculptures using scrap metal, particularly perforated sheets from which shapes had been stamped.
Alley used a diverse range of materials in her work, including rubber, gauze, steel and various metals. Another series of sculptures was inspired by a trip to Egypt, and features sand and pyramid shapes. Alley also began to apply quantities of sand to her paintings, and sometimes to attach objects to them, so that they became sculptural in their own right.
Although much of her later work tended to be minimal, Alley never ceased to improvise or explore different and unusual media.