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Published monthly by Artists of Utah, a non-profit organization   

Denis Phillips, photo by Simon Blundell.

Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
Let's See What Happens
The life and art of Denis Phillips

Denis Phillips is every sort of artist: he flows comfortably between abstraction and realism, moves easily from the Renaissance of restoration work and making frames to the Space Age of creating his own computer-generated prints and synthesizer music.  “I like the change,” he once told me of his genre switches. “It keeps things from getting too routine.”

He’s known for his abstract canvases, spaces where multiple techniques merge to create atmospheric works that give free rein to the imagination. But he can switch genres, bringing his supple brush to plein air painting, or to creating effective still lifes and realistic nudes. A trip with artist Earl Jones resulted in a twilight painting, just a cloud still in the sky, above a rustic home, dimly lit through a single window by a candle or lantern, fronted by a whisper of barbed-wire fence – a haunting image I actually dream about.

He’s also known as one half of the couple behind one of Salt Lake City’s premier galleries. When he and his wife, artist Bonnie Phillips, started a gallery during their hippie days in the 1960s, they had no idea it would still be around 50 years later, representing so many artists, offering the rest of us a little museum with a show that changes monthly, “as always, free of charge.”

To celebrate this half-century anniversary, Phillips Gallery will exhibit hard-edge paintings by Denis Phillips and sculptures by the late Larry Elsner.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Latino Presence
Our America at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts

To consider oneself an American is to acknowledge an inherent lack of cultural homogeny. The nation is comprised of countless national ancestries, cultures, religions and customs. So much so that the traditional and hopeful “melting pot” metaphor has given way to the more realistic “tossed salad.” The Utah Museum of Fine Art’s new blockbuster exhibition Our America showcases a part of that salad, the enormous-and far too often overlooked-influence of Latino culture in American art.
Organized by curator E. Carmen Ramos, of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Our America is intimidating in its scale and ambition, tackling a number of important social, political and personal subjects as well as introducing viewers to a diverse spectrum of artists and mediums. The breadth of Latino-American artistic achievement is astonishing, especially considering the often-debilitating obstacles that impede cultural assimilation. Without a single theoretical lens to view the artworks, the show becomes a collection of perspectives divided into nine major themes. Premises such as immigration, exile, personal identity, and socio-political activism coalesce to form an impressive statement of how the past informs the present.

Exhibitions Review: Ogden
The Vitality of Painting
Pure Paint for Now People at WSU's Shaw Gallery

You may be convinced there is one authentic way of painting. One subject matter, perhaps, and one legitimate presentation. Like Clement Greenberg, you may think pure painting must be flat, call attention to itself as two-dimensional manipulation of color and form on a wall. You may associate large canvases with Abstract Expressionism, which demanded them as proof of commitment to the Church of Art. You may demand the expression of emotion through aggressive handling of material, like thick impasto or palpable painter’s marks. Or you may think that all art is properly and exclusively a cerebral expression of ultimate reality, much like the goodness of God. Paintings may resemble the retinal impression of three dimensions reproduced on a two-dimensional surface. Contrarily, the whole point may be the human capacity to imagine the unseen.

Cognitive science teaches one vital truth: that our memories are illusions, acts of a mental Photoshop program that assembles them anew each time, using stored, fragmentary bits and pieces. You may feel it is the responsibility of paint to make this process visible by projecting it outside the painter’s head, showing those fragments individually, like dreams seen without the dreamer’s effort to organize them into retrospective narratives. On the other hand, modern physics on the order of quantum mechanics proffers another vital truth: that nothing is solid, that qualities like temperature and pressure are anatomically-scaled illusions that can be explained by recourse to molecular behavior. Even the space in which particles spin out the illusion of solidity may be itself an illusion. Time, on the other hand, with all its indefinable characteristics for now seems safe, probably real, according to at least those few cosmologists who can keep up with evermore confounding evidence.

John Berger’s old assertion that the way forward for painting must lie in the return to, and advancement of, time-crunching Cubism may seem validated by your chosen painter’s efforts to depict time in a static image. Or you may know that our human perceptual apparatus evolved over time to enable us to interact safely with an indifferent world, one lying between the Scylla of the infinitesimally small and the Charybdis of the incomprehensibly vast, wherein we dwell and employ tools meant to keep us safe from tigers, but which are unsuited to comprehending the irreconcilable, mysterious vistas that beckon from beyond our petty concerns.

Joanne Greenbaum, Untitled, 2014 at WSU's Shaw Gallery.
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