Thanks to a grant from Lugo Provincial Council, Maruja Mallo moved to Madrid at the beginning of the 1920s to study at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts. There she met Dalí and through him García Lorca and other poets in the Student Residence circle. In 1928 she held her first exhibition in the rooms of Revista de Occidente, which was praised by Manuel Abril. In 1930 she took part in the exhibition on architecture and modern art in San Sebastian with a work that the art critics of that time ascribed to the “New Objectivity”, recreating urban motifs and cinematic scenes.
The fascination that her work exerted over the ‘new literati’ of that time is evident in references in the press and specialist magazines, in which writers such as Giménez Caballero, Jarnés and Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote about her. Rafael Alberti was another admirer, with whom she had both a romantic and creative relationship, and in 1929 published The First Ascension of Maruja Mallo to the Subsoil in La Gaceta Literaria.
In 1932 she traveled to Paris with a grant from the Board of Further Education, where she met André Breton and the rest of the Surrealist circle. That same year, she exhibited her series Sewers and Belfries, regarded as Surrealist art, at the Pierre Gallery. Her contact with Torres García the following year would determine her interest in geometry, a key feature of her work. Between 1934 and 1935, she taught at the School of Ceramics in Madrid. She spent a lot of time with Miguel Hernández, developing an interest in social issues. She also resumed her passion for nature, reflected in series such as Mineral Architectures and Plant Architectures, close to some of the ideas of the Vallecas School. She also forged a friendship with Alberto Sánchez and Benjamín Palencia.
In 1936, she held her last solo show in Madrid before she was exiled, and also took part in the Logicofobista Exhibition in Barcelona, both organized by ADLAN. She settled in Buenos Aires between 1937 and 1961, with brief sojourns in Chile and Uruguay. She kept in touch with the transatlantic avantgarde, especially the magazine Sur. In 1938 she completed the series Message of the Sea, Human Architecture and The Net, a trilogy that embodied her passion for geometry and the use of neutral space. A monograph dedicated to her by Ramón Gómez de la Serna was published in Buenos Aires in 1942.
Her first reemergence in Spain was through the book of drawings entitled Architectures (1948), but she did not return definitively to Madrid until 1965. At that time she was included in the retrospective exhibitions on the avantgarde at the Multitud Gallery and became a point of reference for the city’s intellectuals. The Ruiz Castillo and Guillermo de Osma galleries in Madrid each organized an anthological exhibition of her work. She was distinguished with the Gold Medal for Fine Arts in 1982. Two years before her death, the Galician Center for Contemporary Art in Santiago de Compostela held a retrospective exhibition of her work.