Carmel Berkson was born in New York and studied at Duke University and Columbia University before taking up sculpture under the guidance of Milton Hebald in the 1950s. After practicing sculpture for 22 years in the US, Berkson moved to India in 1977 and has lived and worked in the country ever since.
Explaining her move to India and her fascination with the country’s sculptural traditions, the artist says, “I first came to India on a trip in 1970 and was little prepared for the ancient cave sculptures and structural temples I encountered. The recognition that an entirely different aesthetic had evolved here was a startling experience, and I had not anticipated the amount of tense, compressed, energetic interactivity of the multiple diverse interacting forms on so many medieval temples at the medieval temples at Elephanta, Ellora, and Mahabalipuram.
“Soon thereafter, abandoning my own career as a sculptor in the U.S., I took up a camera and backpack and traveled extensively to important sites for the purpose of the study. Eventually, in 1977, I moved my main residence to India in order to continue research into the philosophy, mythology, and artistic style developments in sculpture. My primary focus was on understanding the very different and unique aesthetic which, on one level, was entirely distinct from the stylistic transformations with which I was so familiar. Ultimately I published five books of criticism and photography, but in 2001 I returned to my first love, making these statues, now in clay and bronze.
“It was wonderful to start sculpting again, now armed and supported with the knowledge and perceptions gained by the years of travel through India. In works created during the past seven years, I have attempted to incorporate the essence of these findings, even while keeping in touch with my own stylistic past. For it soon becomes evident that, although styles of east and west do differ substantially, nevertheless, underlying structures and many factors influencing the life of form are often ubiquitous. At the level of the collective unconscious, artists from different cultures and working in separate historical periods often share those fundamental characteristics that are identifiable as authentic works of art. At the deepest levels of the unconscious, the sources of artistic responses are comparable.
“My goal has been to become ever more deeply involved with Indian sculpture and with the great systems upon which it is based, while simultaneously staying in touch with universal norms and artistic propensities.”