Born in Vienna in 1905, his family moved to Berlin in 1912 and again to Rome in 1919. He was influenced by Julius Meier-Graefe, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and the Gestalt painters. After a stint in Berlin he went to study in Paris and Cassis (1925/26) where he met Jean Varda and Georges Braque. He visited the art school of Hans Hofmann in Munich as well. He became a member of the Surrealists in 1936 and would participate in all their major exhibitions. Inventor of the automatic technique fumage in which the artist would use the smoke of a kerosene lamp or a candle to create a mark on canvas or paper, which served as the beginning image for a more complete painting. In addition to Paalen, Salvador Dalí used the fumage technique extensively.


Paalen came to the United States in 1939 and then went to Mexico in autumn of the same year at the request of Frida Kahlo. While in Mexico he would co-curate the International Surrealist Exhibition in the Galeria de Arte Mexicano in 1940. His work and his theoretical magazine Dyn were well known in New York during the war years and had a great influential on the burgeoning New York School. Paalen came to the San Francisco Bay area in 1949 and along with Gordon Onslow Ford and Lee Mullican started the Dynaton group. He would later return to Mexico where he took his own life in 1959.


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