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Alvin L. Gittins
(Kidderminster, Worcester, England, 1922 - 1981)
Alvin Gittins was a portraitist and teacher. Gittins was born in Kidderminster, Worcester, England, and came to the United States as an exchange student in 1946. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Brigham Young University in 1947 and was appointed to the University of Utah Art Department faculty in that same year. He served as Head of the university's Art Department from 1956 to 1962.
When he came to the U, Gittens brought with him a powerful concept of Academic Realism to replace the still lingering effects of French Impressionism, already decades in the past. He chose academic methods to express simple truths about humans by way of the human face. He admonished students to "go beyond pretty rendering" in their search for something authentic. As time progressed, he experienced firsthand the changing face of art. Gittens found himself in a field which sought to challenge the establishment and abandon tradition. Rather than join the effort, Gittens clung to his personal style of realism.
Gittins taught his students that the drawn portrait was more than a tool, that it was a work of art in itself. His portraits epitomize this approach. Although tightly conceived and rendered, they "glorify, document, speculate, and even validate" the sitters. Gittins himself said "Painting is not to imitate, but to explicate." With his work Gittens documented the lifestyle of his subjects, speculated on their true natures, glorified the fine detail of their figures, and validated himself as one of Utah’s finest painters. His background settings, exhuberant color, and attention to line and detail have led Gittens to be regarded as one of the most skilled portraitists not only in the state, but in the nation.
Gittins’ subjects were always depicted with convincing realism and always in a setting he deemed appropriate to define their character. Wanting to understand himself, Gittins used his art as a way to achieve this self-conciousness. Although traditional realism in art was abandoned by the majority of artists of his day, the human figure provided Gittins the motif with which he could fuse traditional technique and contemporary awareness of formal values. During his career he experimented with pastels, oils, watercolors, charcoals, and even pencil. When he died in 1981, he left in his wake a legacy of Utah artists such as Don Doxey, Susan Fleming, and Ed Maryon.