Anchorage Daily News, 2002

"Painter’s life story is at least as interesting as his works of art"

He sounds a little like Forrest Gump with an English accent, telling his stories of Jackson Pollock and Kris Kristofferson, of running a banana plantation in the Caribbean and getting shot in Houston, Texas, and fighting forest fires out of Fairbanks, of being one of the founding members of the New York School of painting, the last surviving contributor to a 1956 art show called "Ten Americans" that included the work of Willem de Kooning, and Robert DeNiro—"Not the actor, his daddy"—and established once and for all that American painting was no longer going to follow the lead of Europe.

"We brought about a school of painting, an American school of painting, for the first time in the history of the Republic," Alfred Skondovitch said Thursday morning, sitting with a cup of coffee in City Market.

He smiled a little at the irony of he and de Kooning, both of whom jumped ship to get into the United States, being two of the "Ten Americans." Their illegal entry was their link, he said, that and the fact that for a while they carried on with twin sisters, plus all the shared uncertainties of the artist’s life in post World War II New York City. Skondovitch went on to spend more than 40 years in Fairbanks, painting all the time, but out of the mainstream and out of the limelight and "people learned not to bring me information about de Kooning," whose growing fame and success made Skondovitch angry and depressed. Now, though, he said, he has no regrets about leaving New York.

"If I’d stayed in New York, I’d have died," he said. "People in my family died of high blood pressure. And I felt that pressure. Some instinct told me to get out of there."

Skondovitch’s 75 years of life won’t fit on a canvas this small, but it can be sketched. He was born in England to a Lithuanian father and a Russian mother. He was 17 when he exhibited his first painting in wartime London, but "I thought at that time I was going to be a boxer like my brother," he said. "I never understood this painting, all that fuss." After the war, though, he studied art and, at the urging of his instructor, came to America. He lived and painted in New York, but eventually the pressure of being an illegal drove him onto the road. He was recuperating from the shooting in Claremont, Calif., when a bunch of guys he’d met there—Kristofferson, the singer and actor, was one of them—came and told him they were going to Alaska to fight fires. He went along. After the fire season, he went back to New York and settled his immigration problems. Another fire season was followed by several bad months on the banana plantation, so he was very, very happy to get back to Fairbanks and his girlfriend.

"It was 60 below and he got off the airplane and he kissed the tarmac," his now-wife of 40-odd years, Patti, said.

"And my lips stuck," Skondovitch said.

So did he. He worked as a firefighter and on survey crews and ran a reprographics business and painted. She worked for the airlines. They raised two children. They are retired now, in Anchorage for an exhibition and sale of his paintings.

That’s the merest skeleton. Each of these facts is the kernel of a full-blown Skondovitch story, the sort that really must be heard to be appreciated. To the delight of the other coffee drinkers, he even stood up to act out a couple of them. If you go to look at his paintings, get him to tell you how his bulldog paid the family’s way from Oregon to Fairbanks that time, or how his left foot ended up in Jackson Pollock’s "Number 22." You won’t regret it.

The Skondovitch exhibition is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the home of Margaret Klatt, 530 Oceanview Drive.