Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, October 22, 2015

Art review: Skondovitch exhibit shows an artist striving for form

FAIRBANKS — In his classic work, “The Nude,” Kenneth Clark wrote, “… there are the thousands of nudes in European art that express no idea except the painter’s striving for formal perfection.” Clark’s observation seems apt when viewing Alfred Skondovitch’s work on display through Oct. 27 at Well Street Art Company.

Many of the pieces are treatments of the nude. Over the course of a long and productive career, Skondovitch seems to have drawn special inspiration from the female form, restlessly and relentlessly trying to capture its essence in line, color and composition. Understanding his history offers a clue why.

Born in England, he undertook a harrowing journey to a liberated German concentration camp as a young Zionist. Later, he immigrated to the United States to find himself caught up in the beginning of the abstract expressionism movement in New York; he then arrived in Alaska as a firefighter, fell in love and eventually settled here, all the while painting and drawing.

Because of Skondovitch’s early association with abstract expressionism, his work is often placed in that box; and certainly, some of the pieces at Well Street fit. An untitled watercolor from 1960, “CN 0583,” consists of colored daubs embedded in writhing yellow, blue, orange, magenta and purple fields. The piece escapes the garish through masterful gradations of tone, so the composition leaves an impression of organic dynamism, as if one were peering at the structure of a plant or pelt through a powerful lens.

More disturbing are Skondovitch’s paintings taking up the Holocaust. “Follow Me Children” depicts a mottled, white-faced clown bearing vivid accents of red on cheeks, nose and lips. The figure dominates the right side of the composition. Its arm extends out and, by a curious trick of perspective, behind, so a tiny foreshortened hand dangles a white puppet clown figure, a simulacrum. The tiny figure’s fragile form is set against an almost black field. The main figure dips its head away, as vacant eyes gaze past the observer to some unimaginable future.

If the Holocaust paintings explore humanity’s darkness, Skondovitch’s nude studies more than balance the scales, reaching toward the sublime. These images suggest connections with older artists, such as Matisse and Picasso. A good example is an untitled mixed media painting, “CN 0454.” Its treatment of a voluptuous semi-reclined nude, flanked by two other female figures, reminds one of Picasso’s late graphic works. But whereas Picasso frequently places his figures in a dramatic or mythological narrative, Skondovitch lets the nudes speak for themselves. He trusts the directness and immediacy of the human form. At such occasions, Skondovitch’s deep humanity shines forth.

Jewish refugee by heritage, Londoner by birth, Alaskan by choice, Alfred Skondovitch’s work transcends time and place. His artistic expression concerns, first and foremost, what it means to be human. Taking in the current exhibit at Well Street offers an affirmation of our nature.