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Get Surreal

Until he saw the work of surrealist master Salvador Dali, Jim Warren thought art was something only the critics -- those who know the rules about good and bad art -- could appreciate. "Dali said, 'Hell with it, forget the rules,'" says Warren. "When I found out you could do something like that, I decided that's what I wanted to do."

The Clearwater artist, who discovered Dali's work during the '60s, recently documented the first 30 years of his own career in the book The Art of Jim Warren. Now he's working to keep his stuff fresh for another 30. "I can't even describe it," he says of his latest work, pieces of which he'll unveil this week at Wyland Gallery on Las Olas Boulevard. "The difference is that it gets a reaction. When something stops getting a reaction, I know it's time to change."

The oil paintings that have elicited reactions from fans -- like fellow Scientologist John Travolta -- are vivid nature scenes that blend realistic representations of people and animals with elements of fantasy: a grizzled old man reading a book while other books sprout from his forehead (The Intellect, 1978); a green-balloon globe with a little girl riding on top as it deflates (Earth-- Love It or Lose It, 1991); a mystical scene of mermaid children holding an underwater tea party (Mermaids' Tea Party, 1995).

Warren splits his time between painting and commercial illustration. His silver horses adorn the cover of Bob Seger's 1980 album Against the Wind. He's also illustrated the covers of more than 200 books, mostly sci-fi and fantasy novels. (A green alien holds a baby with an adult Elvis head on the cover of Esther M. Friesner's 1994 book Alien Pregnant by Elvis.)

Illustrations are less satisfying, Warren says, because often he's working with other people's concepts. But he admits that the two mediums are similar stylistically. "My illustrations tend to be a little more fantasy and arty-looking," he says. "That's the kind of jobs I get, because that's the way I paint."

And the way he paints is only vaguely reminiscent of his idol. While Dali was a hard-core surrealist, Warren prefers suggestion. "Sometimes the surrealism is so subtle," he says, "that the average guy that's not into Dali really appreciates me, because I keep one foot on Earth."

-- John Ferri

The grand opening of Wyland Gallery, 1213 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, November 20. Works by Jim Warren, Dan Mackin, and Al Hogue will be on display. Admission is free. Call 954-522-4222.

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John Ferri

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