Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 1978

"Artist prepares for a comeback"

Alfred Skondovitch had been a champion boxer and an artist of international repute.

At 51 he’s not going to try a comeback in the ring. But with the public opening of his show Saturday at The Artworks, 3055 College Road, Skondovitch returns to the art arena he left 20 years ago on coming to Alaska.

Entitled "Re-Entry," the Skondovitch show includes 33 landscapes and figures in watercolors, pen and ink and colored pens.

Basically the style is abstract expressionism, once considered avant garde and controversial. The practitioners themselves were often maligned and Skondovitch ruefully recalls a 1956 Time magazine article that described himself and others as "the wild one."

"But now all that has changed," Skondovitch noted, pointing to a very recent Time article saluting Willem de Kooning.

Skondovitch exhibited with de Kooning and others in a landmark show "Ten American Painters" that toured the country and Europe in the mid-‘50s. It was after an appearance with the show in Houston that Skondovitch abdicated the professional art circuit and eventually found his way to Alaska.

In Fairbanks Skondovitch has worked variously for engineering firms, radio stations, had his own business, done a stint on the pipeline and judged local boxing matches.

It was boxing, not art that brought him to the United States from his native England. The son of immigrants who fled Russia just prior to the revolution, Skondovitch grew up in the Whitechapel district of London.

"But it was my ambition to become a boxer like my brother."

He became the feather and lightweight champion of his district and at the same time studied art at Toynbee Hall settlement under University of London instructors. When he came to the U.S. in 1947 to seek fights ("and I soon learned the fans didn’t like my style") he brought his portfolio with him to show a cousin who had a gallery in Greenwich Village.

"When painters like Franz Kline and others found my work exciting, they told me to forget boxing so I accepted a scholarship to the Hofmann School during the day, and at night worked as a boxing instructor, in the garment industry and took courses at New York University.

Within a few years Skondovitch’s work was being shown not just in the Village but in uptown galleries. Leading New York art critics characterized his small landscapes as "strangely moving," they possess "the quality of a place not seen, but a place remembered after long absence."

Similar landscapes are in the forthcoming Fairbanks show along with figure paintings. Some are of very recent origin. Others were done on and off during the past 15 years after his marriage to the former Patti Howard, the daughter of Fairbanks pioneers.

"Working in a wholly non-objective vein is out of the question now," Skondovitch said, "and my colors, if anything, are more cheerful. These represent changes in me rather than exterior influence of place."

One influence Skondovitch acknowledges is that of his children: Sidney, 12, and Lara, eight.

"I don’t look at my own paintings, I don’t hang any and I’ve never encouraged my children in art. But when the children would work at home with crayons and felt pens from school I found myself grabbing them and starting to draw…so they’ve influenced me a great deal."

"I’ve given away a lot, destroyed a lot, all painted with a view of what my attack would be in a larger format of oil painting. I’d like to paint, to get back on the professional calendar again. But every painter asks himself, ‘What would I do to live?’

"I thought I’d done nothing, just written things on the wind, but the death of a fellow artist, which was somehow confused with my own, and other circumstances made me realize people remembered me and my work and makes me think about painting again."