Don Peebles was born in 1922 in Taneatua near Whakatane. His family moved to Wellington and he attended Wellington College, before leaving to deliver telegrams for the Post Office in 1937. He served in the army from 1941 to 1945 in the Pacific and Italy, also studying art in Florence briefly at the war's end before returning to New Zealand and the Wellington Post Office. Peebles attended classes at the Wellington Technical College Art School from 1947, until a leave of absence from the Post Office enabled him to study fulltime at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney.
An award from the Association of New Zealand Arts Societies in 1960 enabled Peebles to go to London, where he met constructionist artist Victor Pasmore. The works of Pasmore and other constructionists influenced Peebles to embark on a style of painting that tried “to get at the essence of things – to keep pushing back the boundaries”. On his return he became the first artist in New Zealand to explore constructist abstraction, and became renowned for painted relief constructions, usually framed in shallow trays. In the late 1970s he began working with looser elements, in particular un-stretched canvas which became the prime material of his constructions.
In 1965 Peebles was appointed to the staff of the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, becoming Head of the Painting Department in 1980. His work has been acquired by both public and private collections in New Zealand and internationally. He was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in 1999 for his services to New Zealand art, and in 2003 was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Literature by the University of Canterbury.