Art is Love is God

Semina and the Bohemian Subculture of Wallace Berman

Wallace Berman in a work from Semina No. 7

Semina was an experimental journal comprised of only nine issues, self-published by Wallace Berman from 1955 to 1964. Berman was a poet and artist who worked outside of the mainstream art world and was part of the counterculture milieu of musicians, writers and artists in and around Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s. He was inspired by jazz, drug and hippie culture (even appearing in Easy Rider), Romanticism, European avant-garde art movements, pornography and beat writers, and his output reflects the interdisciplinary, “art-as-life and life-as-art” spirit of the era. His visual work includes collage, photography, printmaking, film, early mail art and site-specific works and he also ran a small, shambling open-air gallery called Semina. 

Photograph of Charlie Parker by Walter Hopps, from Semina No. 1 and a poem by Wallace Berman for his son Tosh, from Semina No. 7

In his small part in Easy Rider, Berman is in a commune, sowing seeds. This portrayal reflects how he approached art making, language, imagery, and his role in the artistic community: that of a disseminator, gathering packets of provocations, symbols and words to send to others. Semina was never sold, but simply mailed to friends and artists, dispersed like seeds, spreading the anti-art, romantic notions of this bohemian arts community in the secluded Topanga Canyon. This collection is a rare insight into the many scattered, oft-overlooked and vanguard movements that were happening adjacent to the dominant narratives of American art in the middle of the 20th century.

Semina was a cult magazine. It meant to reveal the possibility of the emergence of a new way of feeling. Cult means the cultivation of something…Wallace Berman gathered writers and artists he knew that gave him a sense of his own personal identity.

Robert Duncan, poet