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"Sketch Group with Alfred Skondovitch"

The Ester Republic, 2003
by Terry Glindinning

He enters the room with a slow relaxed step, swinging a big canvas tote holding his supplies. He looks around, perhaps speaking to someone, and finds a chair. Puts on a knee-length white painters smock that looks like a doctor’s coat. Sits down, arranges his sketchpad on his knee and arrays pastels around him on the floor. Maybe he begins to chat, but often is silent. The model begins the pose and he starts drawing with the pastels. He chooses colors, then scratches some out to reveal the color underneath. Sighs, mutters. After awhile he’s livelier in mood, begins to hum to the music playing in the background. Says, "I know you won’t believe this, but my cat sings that song." Exchanges witticisms with the other artists, seems pleased with his work. He likes old songs, especially Fred Astaire’s, and will sing aloud when in an especially happy mood. As a visual artist, he is a dancer. He imbues his small paintings with mood and movement through color and a rhythmic line. He is a romantic who sometimes gives his paintings to the model if she likes it. He remembers the models he has painted, and how they impressed him at the time of the painting.

For the last thirty-five years local artist Alfred Skondovitch has gathered with others to participate in the weekly ritual of sketch group. At this point in his life Skondovitch says that he really doesn’t sketch but works directly. "I commence with an immediate attack," he explains. To know how to see, how to look at and how to feel the presence of the model, this is what’s required of one who draws the most complex of all natural forms, the human body.

Skondovitch says that basically there are two reasons why artists dedicate their energies to sketch group. "It sharpens skills," says he. Secondly, and perhaps more important, it’s a place to meet other artists. Saying a group is good for "networking and making connections with an international complexity" is Skondovitch’s prelude to one of his stories about the importance of sketch group in his life.

At the age of twenty-two, Skondovitch left London for New York with a letter of introduction to the notable abstract-expressionist, Franz Kline. The letter was written by Mrs. Kline’s sister, a London artist. Skondovitch attributes this to "sketch group networking." It was this initial introduction that led to Alfred’s association with the Hofmann School and eventually exhibiting his artwork with the likes of Leland Bell, Nell Blaine, Willem de Kooning, and Richard Deibenkorn.

The university, Ryan Middle School, Site 250, and the Well Street Art Company are some of the places artists have gathered over the past three decades, he says. Skondovitch recalls the ten years that the group met at Gordon Herreid’s cabin. Rather than paid models, this group depended on volunteers. "Not a good idea," he recalls, harkening back to the day that one of his volunteer models asserted her right to profit from the sale of one of his paintings for which she had posed.

Nowadays the sketch group meets weekly at Vladimir Zhikhartsev’s in Fairbanks. The group consists of a good mix of professional and aspiring artists. It is inclusive and basically anyone who wants to spend two hours drawing a nude model is welcomed. Music plays, artists tease and banter. It seems that Skondovitch has a cat named Attila the Hun whom he wants someone in the group to adopt. There are no takers. At break time there are snacks, Russian tea, and vodka. Toasts are made to the ephemeral status of the artist but the permanence of art in our world.

At the break’s end Skondovitch is back at work on his study of a model riding upright high on a horse. The studio certainly lacks a horse and the model is currently in a reclining pose. His oil pastels dance on the paper or canvas and occasionally he’ll stand up and dance a step or two himself. Then it’s back to the business of applying color skillfully, knowingly. "I use color with the intention of being emotionally evocative," he declares. He goes on to say at the end of it all, "I’m always in a quandary as to what I’ve done."

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