"The Work of a Modern Alaskan Painter"
The Alaska Journal, 1986
by Nina Mollett
Alfred Skondovitch has gradually established a reputation as one of the most masterful painters living today in Alaska. Skondovitch is nearly sixty, and has actually had two art careers. His first career as an artist was in New York City in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At that time he was part of the regular stable of artists at the Poindexter Gallery, one of the top ten galleries in the country, showing among others Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Richard Diebenkorn and Phillip Guston. But Skondovitch left New York and came to Alaska in search of adventure. He established a successful engineering and blueprinting business, and only took up art again seriously in 1978, when he learned that an account of his death had appeared in an art brochure published in Zurich, Switzerland. He decided, "I want to leave a body of work; I don’t want to be resurrected as a footnote to the American School in New York City by some junior art historian."
Skondovitch was born in England, and received his early art training in London and Paris. When he arrived in New York in 1948, he found in the expressionists a sympathetic group of painters. "It was a life of bare survival," he said, "but it was wonderful. You could make something completely new; you were at the razor edge of discovery."
Skondovitch attended the Hofmann School, and Hofmann has had a great influence on his work and life. "In a world in which all the traffic signals were against you, and it was really a struggle to live," Skondovitch says, "he taught us that we were important. You were given courage that you wouldn’t get out of any other school."
While in New York, Skondovitch worked at a variety of jobs. He designed sets for the French National Theatre, was a professional boxer and a guard at the Guggenheim Museum. But his main occupation was painting, and he was recognized as a promising young artist. Within two years he was showing his work at the Pagano Gallery and the Poindexter.
But Skondovitch elected to change his life. Although he was receiving a measure of glory, the financial rewards were less gratifying; and he was not satisfied that he would ever be able to adequately express on canvas the deep feelings of sorrow and despair which had followed him, after the war, to America.
The idea of going to Alaska had been in the back of his mind since meeting poet John Haines in Manhattan. Haines’ wife was a fellow art student at the Hofmann School. Skondovitch briefly attended Claremont College in California, met some other students who earned their tuition by fighting fires in Alaska, and joined them.
There followed many years of activities as varied as prospecting for gold, radio advertising, and engineering. Skondovitch established the first laboratories for technical photography and the first collimation labs in Alaska. He also reorganized a failed engineering and blueprinting firm in Fairbanks into a very successful business.
Since taking up painting again seriously in the late 1970s, Skondovitch has become immersed in his work. He plans to begin painting on canvas again as opposed to the acrylics on paper he has been doing, and to branch out into other forms of printmaking than the spare, evocative monoprints he has become known for in Fairbanks.
There is a dreamlike quality to many of his paintings, and a fine tension between his subject matter and the patterned forms through which he portrays that subject matter. His monoprints tend to be thin and economical with line and color, but the paintings are thick and lavish, the paint laid on in emotional swirls.
"I really don’t know what’s going to happen," Skondovitch says of his artistic future. "I think painting is a state of being reborn, which is great, but it’s also very private….I don’t know why, but the greatest day of my life was coming into Nenana on the Tanana River, and I keep returning to that theme. I’m looking out at things now instead of always turning inward."