Wallace Berman

(1926 - 1976)

About The Artist


Alternative, underground, Beat generation artist Wallace Berman was born in Staten Island, New York and moved to Boyle Heights, Los Angeles with his family when he was 9-years-old. Berman did not finish high school or college—he briefly attended Chinouard Art Institute, now CalArts, but his varied interests in music, painting, photography, sculpture, filmmaking and other formats defied organized education and he opted to participate in the city’s jazz and Beat scenes instead. His first solo show of assemblage sculpture at the legendary Ferus Gallery in 1957 would also turn out to be his last—the Los Angeles Police Department raided the exhibition on a tip reporting sexually explicit content and forced it to close early. Berman was arrested, charged, and convicted of obscenity charges.

The unfortunate incident weighed heavily on Berman, and he left Los Angeles for the Bay Area where he sought refuge in the underground art and Beat scenes with artists and writers including Jean Cocteau, Charles Brittin, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Bruce Conner, and Jay De Feo. Berman brought a wide-ranging group of people together in his short-lived but important journal Semina. Produced for friends, family, and associates between the years of 1955 and 1964, nine issues exist in editions ranging from 150-350. The magazine was sent through the mail and consisted of a miscellany of loose-leaf drawings, photographs, writings, collages, and postcard-sized ephemera inserted into an exterior folder or envelopes.

In 1961, Berman returned to Los Angeles, settling in Topanga Canyon in 1964. As he had done while in Mill Valley, Marin County, and other regions of the Bay area, Berman continued to create wonderfully nuanced portraits of his close knit circle of family and friends in black and white. During his last decade in Los Angeles, before his death in 1976, Berman was prolific in his completely novel work with the Verifax machine, an early precursor to the Xerox copier. Using the antiquated machine, he manipulated and arranged gridded collage works that are affecting yet mysterious.

Berman’s work can be found in museum collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Hammer Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.


Cotter, Holland. “A Return Trip to a Faraway Place Called Underground.” NYTimes.org. The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2007. Web 12. Nov. 2014.
“Wallace Berman.” Pacific Standard Time at the Getty Center. Getty.edu. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Web. 12. Nov. 2014.