The catalog astutely traces relationships between Semina and the work of Surrealist poets such as Antonin Artaud and the mystical wing of Judaism represented by the Cabala. Another, more popular source goes unidentified, however, and given Berman's keen interest in the imagery and mechanics of mass media it seems too explicit to ignore. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd boy stumbled on seven rolls of ancient parchment hidden in a cave on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, had grown to some 800 ancient manuscripts, texts and fragments when 10 more caves were explored over the next decade. The aged Hebrew and Aramaic communication galvanized the scholarly and the public imagination, culminating in the 1955 book on the ancient papyri by America's preeminent literary critic, Edmund Wilson.
It's hard to imagine the scrolls weren't at least part of the inspiration for Berman's "parchment paintings" — thin paper brushed with wood stain, inscribed with Hebrew letters in black ink, then torn, abraded and mounted on small square canvases in imitation of ancient fragments — which he began in 1956. [Berman's magazine] Semina, begun immediately prior to the parchments, is like a sequence of modern manuscript fragments communicating mystical utterances in words and pictures, an artifact of 20th century spiritual intercourse.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS MEET ART: A Santa Monica Museum exhibition of the works of Beat-Generation artist Wallace Berman includes paintings apparently inspired by the Dead Sea Scrolls: