Denis Ray Phillips

1938 ~ 2024

Denis Ray Phillips, 85, passed away February 21, 2024. Born December 13, 1938, to
Marvin and Madeline Phillips, Denis was the oldest of four children and the
consummate big brother. Denis attributed his mother with getting him started in art; she
mail-ordered drawing instructions and entered him into competitions found on
matchbook covers, uncovering his gift of art and ultimately his lifelong passion. He
graduated from Olympus High School and in 1957 joined the US Coast Guard the same
year, which took him to Alameda Island in the Bay Area of California for 6 months of
boot-camp training followed by once yearly 2-week reserve duty for the following 8
years. Denis graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Arts degree in
1962
Soon after graduation from art school, Denis opened the Art and Sign Company.
Working as a sign-painter, he created attractive window advertisements for Associated
Grocers and Albertson’s, which remained one of his trademark skills. In addition, he and
lifelong friend, Ron Williams, started The Good Sole Sandal Shop in the 9 th  and
9 th  neighborhood, creating hand-crafted custom leather sandals. For two years, Denis
also taught painting at the University of Utah Fine Arts Department. Although he did
consider teaching as a possible career path, he knew that creating art was his true
passion and he went on to become one of Utah’s most revered and prolific painters.
In 1963 he met his future life partner, Bonnie Gile, where they were each leasing
adjacent studio spaces in the same building. Shortly thereafter, in 1965, together they
founded Phillips Gallery, Utah’s first art gallery bringing contemporary art to the
intermountain west. Denis and Bonnie eloped to Nevada and were married in the Elko
County courthouse on September 11, 1966. They had two sons Benjamin Dooly (1969)
and Adam Burke (1971). 
In the early days of Phillips Gallery, located on the northwest corner of 9 th and 9 th , Denis
and Bonnie worked alongside their many artist friends, selling their respective works.
While holding space for local activism, Phillips Gallery hosted many events promoting
anti-war and other important social causes. These gatherings showcased alternative
films which collectively engaged the local community. Denis and Bonnie were active in
the Peace and Freedom Party in Utah. In 1968, Phillips Gallery relocated to its current
home at 444 East and 200 South.
Each summer the Gallery would close its doors so the Phillips family could travel around
the west, camping and painting. Denis would plein-air paint throughout those late
summer travels in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Bonnie also painted and produced
watercolor landscapes. The children, Ben and Adam, when not shooting BB guns,
bicycling or fishing, were also exposed to outdoor landscape painting with watercolors
as they would paint alongside their parents. Those summer trips resulted in some of
Denis’s most iconic works of oil-on-canvas landscapes that became among Denis’ best-
known art styles from the late 70’s through the mid 80’s. During one of those summer
adventures, Denis and Bonnie bought a house in Paris, Idaho, which provided a
summer home enjoyed by both family and friends for years to come.
Denis’s art styles ranged from large-scale symmetrical abstract works, plein-air realistic
landscapes, colorful abstract landscapes and most recently his splatter series that were
both rich in color and experimental in painting surfaces. He dabbled in any medium that
caught his fancy, including small playful sculptural pieces often involving dried paint
brushes affixed to various surfaces. Denis remained a prolific painter and creator
throughout his life. He somehow managed to delight his audience with almost
everything he produced. His wife Bonnie and their son Ben continue to own and
operate the Gallery.
Denis was also a musician. He played the piano, guitar, ukulele and found time to
compose and record new age music. Golf too, was a passion. On beautiful days, he
could be found skipping work to go “hit some balls.”
Denis was a man of few words, yet once engaged, his discerning opinions were
valuable insights that cut to the chase. His advice to artists was always “keep going,
make more and don’t worry about it too much.” Denis did things his own way. He was
independent and loving, stubborn and generous, a good friend with a truly beautiful
soul.
He is survived by his wife Bonnie; son, Ben; sister, Patricia (Dolly) Larsen
grandchildren, Aaron, Rosie, Jonah, Lily, daughter-in-law, Lisa Phillips and Lisa’s
daughter, Taylor;. He is preceded in death by his son Adam, and his brothers, Terry and
Roger. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to a local charitable and/or
educational arts organization. We would like to send our gratitude to our family, friends,
gallery employees and artists who have expressed their sympathies and support. A
memorial and celebration of life will be announced at a later date at: www.denisrayphillips.com
Photo by Simon Blundell