POETRY CENTER SPOTLIGHTS A TRADITION OF NONCONFORMITY

Mixed media collages, zines, and organic collaborations among visual artists and writers are ubiquitous and legitimate forms of creative expression today. This wasn’t always the case. Before DIY was acceptable, rebel artists ignored the rules and produced underground work that was honest and unadulterated. One of these artists was Wallace Berman.

Volumes of Wallace Berman’s inventive, limited press journal Semina as well as printed work it has inspired are now on exhibit at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in “Under the Influence of Walter Berman: From Semina to Siglio.”

Photo by Rebecca Ranta

Photo by Rebecca Ranta

“What draws me to Wallace Berman is the combination of his creative work and the kind of person he was. He knew everyone and facilitated collaborations among artists across art forms,” exhibit curator Rebecca Ranta said. Wallace Berman was a key player in California’s Beat scene in the 1950s–1970s. As a pioneer of assemblage art, his non-conventional art pieced together found objects together in novel, three-dimensional formats.

“I first came across Berman’s art a couple of years ago, when I saw his journal, Semina, was noted as inspiration for Unified Field Collective. Considering what a big impact he still has today, I was surprised that I had never learned about him while in art school,” said Ranta, who attended Pratt Institute in New York City and holds a Bachelor’s in Studio Art from the University of New Hampshire. When Ranta discovered that the University of Arizona Special Collections has several volumes of Semina in its vaults, she knew she had to share Berman’s work and wide influence with others.

Photo by Rebecca Ranta

Photo by Rebecca Ranta

Like all good members of the Beat Generation, Berman did things his own way. His vision for Semina did not align with the standards of poetry journals at the time, so between 1955 and 1964 he hand-printed and self-published nine volumes, each with less than 200 hundred copies. Semina contains the work of Berman’s friends, who happened to be notable artists and poets of the time: Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, and Jess, to name a few.

Facsimiles of Semina volumes two and seven are available to read and rearrange at Under the Influence. As copies of Berman’s copies, the exhibit follows the tradition of renewing and transforming found objects.

Photo by Rebecca Ranta

Photo by Rebecca Ranta

Also on display are limited edition, handmade books by Berman’s co-conspirators Kenneth Pachen, Charles Bukowski, and Jess. Siglio Press’s Ephemera editions, which playfully combine visual and literary arts, represent current iterations of Berman’s legacy.

“Under the Influence of Walter Berman: From Semina to Siglio” is on display at the University of Arizona Poetry Center from July 5 to August 5, 2016, and can be viewed Monday and Thursdays 9-8, and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 9-5. The Poetry Center is free to the public.

 

*This post and its original content first appeared on Territory Magazine.