Friday, February 18, 2011

Artist Wallace Berman Killed by Drunk Driver in Topanga Canyon 1976


Wallace Berman (February 18, 1926 – February 18, 1976) 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.

His likeness was included in the second row of the Beatles' 1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

He was killed after being struck by a drunk driver on the eve of his fiftieth birthday in Topanga Canyon in February 18, 1976.


After his death, Berman became the subject of myriad books and exhibitions exploring his work and Semina Culture. In 2008, he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition All is Personal: The Art of Wallace Bermanat the Camden Art Center in London. In 2009, there was a solo exhibition of his work at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in New York.


Selected bibliography

Verifax Collages Monographic catalogue French/English Text by Sophie Dannenmüller (Published by frank elbaz gallery, FRANCE ©2009)

Photographs by Wallace Berman Text by Kristine McKenna (Published by Rose Gallery, USA ©2007)

Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle by Kristine McKenna (Author), Michael Duncan (Author) (Published by Distributed Art Publishers, USA)

Different Drummers: Wallace Berman, Clyde Connell, Bruce Conner by Frank Gettings (Published for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden by the Smithsonian Institution Press, USA ©1988)

She: Images of Women by Wallace Berman and Richard Prince by Kristine McKenna (Editor), Wallace Berman (Illustrator), Richard Prince (Illustrator), Bruce Conner (Photographer)


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