One of the most interesting visual artist of the Beat era, Wallace Berman (1926-1976) remains, for me, one of the best kept secrets of the late twentieth century. A crucial figure in California's postwar underground, Berman was a catalyst who traveled through many different worlds, transferring ideas and dreams from one circle to the next. His publication called Semina, a loose-leaf art and poetry journal that Berman published and personally distributed in nine issues occupies a legendary place within the California art world as the club for those in the know. An experiment in private, improvised art distributed among friends, Semina can be compared to the fascicles and letters of Emily Dickinson a century earlier; both Dickinson and Berman sought through their hand-made, private creations—often sent out as “mail art”—to coalesce a community that was at odds with the official world. Within the charmed circle of the Semina coterie, distinctions between literature and art collapsed: poets drew and made collages; artists and filmmakers wrote poems. Speaking for Berman, his wife Shirley asserts that he published Semina “because he loved poetry so much”. “We spent a lot of time reading poetry,” she recalls, insisting that poetry was a more fecund source of inspiration for Berman than two other art forms he adored, music and film: “His working process was to read poetry, all the new young poets”
Semina was an unbound journal printed on a hand press in editions of a few hundred and mailed to friends ‘like a surprise communication from an erratic correspondent’. Each installment of Semina consisted of loose-leaf pages of different sizes and shapes and featured works by dozens of the artists and poets who passed through Berman’s bungalow on Crater Lane, a loosely defined scene that included Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Jack Hirschman, Joan Brown, Jess, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper, Taylor Mead, Jack Smith, Walter Hopps, William Burroughs and many more.
I have included photos to get a feel of what an interesting and wonderful thing Semina culture truly was and it takes me back in time to a place where artist truly made art for arts sake as opposed to the drive for money and fame. Every photo and piece of poetry and art work inspires so much in me, mainly a sense of the magic in ordinary life and the simple style of working with what you have as we are all so full of our own magic as are the things around us.
A poem by Jack Hirschman