Carmel Berkson studied history at Duke and Columbia University in the U. S. A. but she soon became focused on the creation of statues in clay, wood, plaster and welded metal sheet. On a trip to India in 1970, Carmel came face to face, in their indigenous context, with the entirely different aesthetic of the cave and temple sculptures here. Having become fascinated by the country's sculptural traditions, Carmel Berkson's main focus on study during the past forty years has been the aesthetics and form life of Indian art.
Carmel travelled extensively to innumerable sites all over India, photographing and documenting them for her research. Primarily her focus was on understanding the unique aesthetic which was entirely distinct from the stylistic transformations with which she was familiar. She read texts concerning the systems of proportions and iconographical representations of the religious and mythological subjects of India, while continuing her travels, investigations and researches in the Indian civilization.
In 2001 Carmel Berkson returned to her first love the making of sculptures in clay for casting into bronze. Her new works are inspired by her long involvement with the history of Indian sculpture. These new creations rely heavily on traditional Indian sculpture, even while her own stylistic past is in evidence. The original, unique underlying structure and the life of the interacting shapes and forms, the configurations and iconographical identifications have been retained in contemporary form.
Carmel Berkson writes, "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, working in separate historical periods, often share those fundamental characteristics that can be identified as authentic works of art. At the deepest levels of the unconscious, the sources of artistic responses may often be comparable.
Once I was exposed to the Indian monuments there could be no turning back. In regard to my own work, the shock of discovery and the subsequent photographic studies at many sites in India deepened my understanding of what is possible when a society is organized for the purpose of maintaining the traditional heritage. These outpourings in stone can only have been accomplished in anorganized society where wealthy royal andtrader patrons commissioned and supported dedicated architects, scholars, priests and sculptors and where the efforts of thousands of workers werecoordinated towards the common goal. The resultingmonumental works of beauty andgrandeur remain as the profound expressions of theprevailing meaningful and syncretic religious experiences.
Before I came to India forty years ago, as a sculptor in the United States, I had already intuited some of the internal processes operating within the sculptural fields and the grid within which forces were propelled out from a centre. But I had not anticipated the amount of tense, compressed, energetic interactivity of the multiple diverse harmonious and dissonant forms, nor the enormity of the scale and complexity of interacting form life on so many medieval temple walls, and at Ajanta, Elephanta, Ellora and, Mahabalipuram.
I wondered how then can individual contemporary sculptors, separated from one another and functioning within a market economy, benefit from the retrieval of connections in order to make sculpture relevant for today. For me the answer was that, no matter how individuated we are, and no matter how limited we are by working alone, what can be shared with the ancient sculptor has to do with aesthetics and with the Indian spirit- all that involves the integration of form life.
And so, after all those years of photographing at the Indian sites, when I started sculpting again, I kept in mind the qualities I have listed above as they function in the fields of force. In the process of making art the conscious level actually takes a subordinate role; rather, the ever-attractive eye instinctively operates to order diverse elements into a mobile entity.
While the basic shapes of my sculpture are relevant to my work in the past, the configuration and mythological references are modeled upon those of the ancient Indian sculptors, or they are my own interpretations of these configurations. After I had realized that in Cave 15, at Ellora, the double figures were indeed great contributions to the history of world art, the relationship to one another of two mobile figures became very important to me. Consequently most of my sculptures are devoted to the aesthetic problems posed by these interrelationships.