When Mallary visited an exhibition of paintings by Clyfford Still at the Palace Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1948, his response to this new kind of painting was negative. However, his attitude towards Abstract Expressionism underwent a gradual change in the early fifties when he began to visit New York and met some of the artists, including George McNeil, Jack Tworkov, and Franz Kline. In 1958, Elaine de Kooning taught for a semester at the University of New Mexico. While there, she encouraged Mallary in a decision he had already made, to move to New York.
The shift to New York was made in the summer of 1959, but it was something of a letdown after the New Mexico idyll. Mallary later wrote for the catalog of “Contemporary Urban Visions” at the New School Art Center (1966):
“My initial response of New York was less than enthusiastic; the place hit me with an impact which was both numbing and hyper-stimulating. It took about six months to work out a strategy of accommodation. Put in the simplest terms, this involved assimilating as much of the city directly into my work as I could. What I assimilated were images suggested by old walls, encrusted and peeling paint and the erosion and fractured configurations of sidewalks and streets. I began to collect and take back to the studio bits and pieces taken from the city itself. Broome Street, is made of billboard tearings, splintered wood, sand and gravel, and other detritus all mortised together with a synthetic plastic. Calle de las Putas, is organized within a rectilinear grid suggesting, for me at least, the gray ambience of a totally oppressive regimentation. The smaller forms are also rectilinear, but in their variations and digressions from the overall scheme suggest metaphorically an obstinate yearning on the part of human beings towards individuality, towards a primary assertiveness which, hopefully, no system, no matter how repressive, can completely defeat. Calle de las Putas refers to a street in the red light district of Mexico City. It was like a ghetto, as a prison is like a ghetto, the ghetto being one of the pathologies to which urban life is prone.”
For Mallary, New York was both a place in which to live and work and a source of materials and imagery. But it was also important to him as a world center of art. At that time the “scene” still referred mainly to Abstract Expressionism, but Neo-Dada, assemblage, and junk art were by then at their apogee. In demonstrating the usefulness of polyester and epoxy plastics as gluing and mortising agents for constructed art, he disseminated a technical innovation. But his more important contribution was to the imagery of assemblage and junk art, in which respect he evolved a personal “iconography” of trash heap, apotheosizing all varieties of soft, crumpled, shredded and fractured detritus. He proved that his plastics could be used as a kind of embalming fluid to link and stiffen these ephemeral bits and pieces of matter into durable art of a sometimes classical rigor.