Wallace Berman
Verifax collage, c. 1972
11-3/4 x 12-7/8 inches
Gift of Ruth and Murray Gribin

Wallace Berman was an influential Beat Generation artist and a crucial figure in the history of twentieth-century postwar California art. Considered one of the fathers of California assemblage, Berman was at the center of a circle of artists, writers, and musicians, who fused poetry, jazz, art, and ritual.

Berman’s largest body of work was his photomechanical prints, or Verifax collages. He started the collages in about 1963 using an early version of a photocopier that generated high-quality images. He repeated photos of a hand-held transistor radio within a grid, “broadcasting” a visual diary of the time. Laguna Art Museum’s small Verifax collage contains four images—an ear, a spaceman, a planetary orb, and a radial esoteric symbol. All are stock images the artist repeated in other Verifax collages.

Berman also used Hebrew letters in his collages as decorative elements and kabalistic symbols, asserting his Jewish identity and his orientation toward the mystical. What results is a language of the soul, a twentieth-century iconography in which spacemen and presidents replace saints. His work can be read either as a form of pop art or potent visual poetry.

An enigmatic personality with an aristocratic bearing, Berman had a brief and intense life. He died on his fiftieth birthday, killed by a drunk driver in Topanga Canyon.