Originally from South Africa, Portelli moved permanently to England in 1969 following many happy visits to the UK during his childhood. His artwork to this day often references his spanning of these two continents, drawing on influences from both nations.
He studied at Medway College of Art, focussing initially on interior design and then, latterly, on sculpture. Whilst at college he started his own business, designing theatre sets and hotel interiors and even employed around 20 people - all before graduating.
Portelli continued his studies in sculpture at Chelsea Art College and in the late 1970s found employment at the BBC’s special effects department, working on sets for Doctor Who and Blake's 7.
His work is found in public, private and corporate collections in Britain and the USA. Ringo Starr has purchased several of his pieces and continues to be an avid collector. Portelli is a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and has sat as Vice-President of the Royal Society of British Artists previously. In 2002, he won the Elisabeth Frink School Award, and the Scott Goodman Harris Award in 2003.
Whilst appearing on BBC’s Dragons Den In 2008, Portelli received £80,000 from three investors, convincing them that modern art is a viable and realistic investment.
Understandably this instantly raised his public profile. A number of the ‘Dragons’ have since gone on to purchase Portelli’s works of art for their personal collections.