Art has been defined as an awareness of relationships that leads to transformation, then transcendence. In the experience of Mark Abildgaard’s art the emphasis is on transformation. Materials, process, product, the experience of the artist, even the interaction with a viewer, involve a series of transformations. His art historical genealogy might be traced in a line from ancient Egyptian figures, Greek Cycladic idols, through the 20th century, Constantin Brancusi, Isamu Nouguchi, Stephen DeStaebler in the west, then to the Pacific Island wood carvings of Hawaii and the organic raku forms of Japan. The common element of the visual language in all of these references is the articulation of pure form, color and texture and the embodiment of a spiritual power. With an MFA from the University of Hawaii in 1983 and a visiting artist position at the Tokyo Glass Art Institute in 1984, Abildgaard’s aesthetic was formed by both intellectual study and direct experience combined with a refinement of his personal spiritual path.
Abildgaard’s art belongs fully to the tradition of art where the forms carry a spirit, are given life by that spirit. So his images are born of a transformative process, which can be aligned with the Asian/ Pacific philosophical traditions of “letting go of the ego” or the desire for control. He speaks of his use of a practice learned from a 17th C. Japanese Zen monk, Enku,
“Enku used the practice of carving with a hatchet to remove direct control and let the force of nature create. I use a wood paddle on the clay to remove the self-conscious, to keep life in the working process. All of the figures on my paddle boat have paddle marks.”