Wallace Berman (1926-1976)

Aleph (1958-1976)

Wallace Berman was an American visual /assemblage artist.

Wallace Berman was born in Staten Island, New York and moved with his family to Los Angeles, California in 1930. He was expelled from high school for gambling, and became involved in the world of jazz. He enrolled in and attended the Jepson Art School and Chouinard but did not complete studies there. Instead of pursuing a formal art 'career' he worked in a factory finishing antique furniture. This work gave him the opportunity to salvage reject materials and scraps which he used to make sculptures. He began a mail art publication called SEMINA The format was a letterpress text printed on an assemblage of colored paper, photos, and essentially found material. Contributors included John Altoon, Antonin Artaud, Charles Brittin, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Jean Cocteau, Allen Ginsberg, Marion Grogan, Walter Hopps, Larry Jordan, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Stuart Perkoff, and John Weiners.

He exhibited pieces in the Ferus Gallery in 1957, became part of the beat communities in Los Angeles and in San Francisco, and started the Semina Art Gallery in Larkspur, CA in 1960. He made his first and only film, Aleph, from 1956-1966. Berman did not give the film a title, referring to it just as 'my film' or 'my movie' and never showed it to large audiences, preferring to screen it on his studio wall on a one-to-one basis. The title Aleph was given to the work by Berman's son, Tosh, after the artist's death.

He used verifax collages in his work, allowing for creation of serial and multiple images. From artist Ed Ruscha: "There were a lot of artists then that were doing serial imagery in that way, including Llyn Foulkes and Andy Warhol himself, of course, who really popularized it. I had done some things like that. It came about at a time where it had completely reached its time. It was inevitable, It's like a genealogy. I think it was about Wally- and even Andy of course, who came out of the commercial world - seeing not paintings in museums but more popular imagery." This development in the art world seems directly related to the growth of mass production, consumption, and mass disposal that the US embraced in the 1950s.

He was killed after being struck by a drunk driver on the eve of his fiftieth birthday in Topanga Canyon in 1976.


Wallace Berman in UbuWeb Historical