Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 16, 2011

"He was such a powerful painter, his paintings were really of the quality of that first generation of abstract expressionists"

Alfred Skondovitch, one of Alaska’s master artists who, at one, point found himself showing with some of the world’s most important abstract expressionist painters, died Friday morning in Anchorage. He was 84.

His daughter, Lara Duke, said Skondovitch’s health had been deteriorating in recent months, and a fall earlier this week led to complications that had him medevaced to Anchorage. He was unable to recover.

Skondovitch was known for his original, colorful, abstract paintings, which were deeply personal. Artist David Mollett said his work was a cross between Willem de Kooning and Marc Chagall. Many of Skondovitch’s works tend to be a blend of the chaotic with the emotional, creating a dreamlike quality.

"He was such a powerful painter, his paintings were really of the quality of that first generation of abstract expressionists," Mollett said.

Born in England in 1927 to Russian Jewish immigrants, Skondovitch was more interested in boxing than painting until a teacher noticed his skill and encouraged him to pursue it. Art led him to New York City, where he studied at the Hofmann School under German expressionist Hans Hofmann, whose alumni include Lee Krasner and Richard Stankiewicz.

He received serious acclaim for his work, being included as one of 10 notable Abstract Expressionists at New York’s Egan/Poindexter Gallery in 1956 along with de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Nell Blaine and Milton Resnick. The show was influential in shifting the art world’s attention from Paris to New York City.

In 1958, Skondovitch was persuaded by friends to visit Alaska. He landed in Fairbanks, fighting forest fires. He fell in love with the community and also with his future wife, Patti. They married in 1963.

The couple moved back to New York for Skondovitch to pursue his art career after the birth of their son, Sidney, but it was short lived. Neither wanted to raise a family in the city and found themselves back in Fairbanks after three months.

Duke said her father always felt some sadness about not finding more success in New York. Skondovitch always maintained his artistic individuality, despite his art not being the most popular, or typical, kind of Alaska art.

"His style of art isn’t super appealing to some of the Alaska art people," Duke said. "He could be kind of snobby about his art."

Skondovitch focused on nudes, but would branch out into other topics. Artist Kes Woodward said while Skondovitch would paint landscapes, they were not stereotypical. Often the works were personal, figurative and not what most would expect.

"It was all about the art not the place," he said.

That didn’t mean Fairbanks wasn’t important. He was deeply devoted his family, other artists and the community. Skondovitch mentored local artists and taught classes with the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. He was especially proud of his volunteer work with the local boxing club in Fairbanks.

Skondovitch’s works can be found in museums across Alaska, but it is his influence on artists he mentored that will be felt in the future.

"His biggest message to (artists) was not to fall into the crowd," Woodward said. "But to go where your own personal vision leads you."