Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 1986

"Artist has an interesting background"

Alfred Skondovitch has what is probably the most interesting background of any visual artist living and working in Alaska today. Although, when he first came to the state he did not paint at all, he has recently begun to paint again, and the University Museum is showing a small collection of some of his newer works.

Skondovitch was born in 1927 in London, where he received his early art training. He soon traveled to Paris, a city steeped in artistic tradition, to continue his education, and he entered his first exhibitions in these two cities.

He must have been a forward-looking young man, for he was drawn to the energetic community of artists then living in New York, so he moved there in 1948 and became active in the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. This group of artists included such now famous painters as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg and others whose work fills the museums and galleries of the United States today.

Spontaneity is important in the work of the Abstract Expressionist. They were interested in exploring all the possibilities of their media, so their work displays a reliance on accidental and unforeseen effects.

Skondovitch studied at the Hans Hofmann School, then a leading proponent of the abstract movement of the ‘40s and ‘50s which swept across the U.S. and Europe. It was these artists who removed American art from the dominance of the European school and gave it an international preeminence of its own.

This was a very exciting time for artists living in New York, including Skondovitch. He became a regular exhibitor in the Poindexter Gallery, one of the most influential galleries of its time. Then he received his permanent residency in the U.S. in 1957, and he moved west in search of a different kind of excitement. He began fighting forest fires in California and soon joined crews in Interior Alaska. For five years he led crews out of Minto, Nenana and Tanacross.

In 1963 George Poindexter invited Skondovitch to live and paint at his estate on the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies, but Skondovitch became homesick for Alaska. In August he returned and married Patricia Mae Howard. They settled in Fairbanks where Skondovitch worked as a surveyor and pioneered reproductive services for engineers and architects by establishing the first laboratories for technical photography and collimation (accurate adjustment of surveying equipment) in the state. He continues to work in this field as the vice president of McCauley’s Reprographics.

Eight years ago Skondovitch learned that rumors of his death were making the rounds of the art world. This is what prompted him to begin painting again, to create a new and larger collection of his own work. Since then he has exhibited occasionally in Alaska and is planning a major exhibit of oils in England.

The work currently on display at the museum was completed in 1985 and 1986. It includes 28 drawings and paintings on paper, all of a modest size. Skondovitch titled his show "Of the Bitter and Sweet" because his works represent two different artistic directions that interest him. The subject matter and handling distinguish his two approaches. One is a lighthearted, pleasant group of figure studies. The other group is more complicated and much more serious. The images are based on personal recollections of events during the Holocaust.

This specific subject matter is not really obvious to the viewer, but the dark, gloomy mood of the work comes through clearly. "The Killing Machine" is the easiest to interpret because of its title. Large, rectangular shapes fill the paper, dominated by a deep wine red and sad greys. A single strong diagonal line and turret-like forms are reminiscent of a large tank.

Several other works depict groups of figures in landscapes. All are dark and moody. Skondovitch creates his compositions of loose assemblies of informal rectangles and forms. He uses thin semi-transparent layers of acrylic paint which partly hide and partly reveal the lower layers of paint. This technique gives a richer more painterly quality to the surface of the work, and it makes the figures blend with the landscapes rather than being superimposed in front of them. Many of the works have flowing calligraphic lines incised through layers of paint and several have thin vertical lines overlaying the figures.

These techniques and the handling of paint and composition prove Skondovitch’s talent, although the size and scope of the work are not really large enough to handle the important, intense subject matter he is dealing with. These paintings leave the viewer wanting to see more.

The figure studies are more suited to the size of the work. The artist’s sense of fun and enjoyment are clearly expressed. The colors are pure and bright and the lines quick and spontaneous, but Skondovitch’s solid control of composition holds them together.

The most beautifully composed drawing is "Kneeling Figure," a small, delightful work in which the kneeling model fills the whole image area. She leans on thin, red arms, in strong contrast to her rounded, white thighs. Her tiny head perches on her shoulders, and a graceful wave of hair flows across her back. As in his other work, his background forms are smoothly integrated with the figure’s forms.

"The Dancer" is a graceful line drawing in oil crayon on a yellow, acrylic background. The lines are inexact, but the figure is perfectly balanced on one leg with arms gracefully raised. She, too, is yellow and appears to glide through the background rather than over it. It is this concern with the interactions of media and composition in a casual, sometimes accidental way, that still ties Skondovitch to his Abstract Expressionist roots.

His work will be on display at the University Museum through Feb. 8, 1987.