Phil Greed
Wed, June 29, 2011 at 12:00
Stephanie Hunt in Coffs Coast, Coffs Harbour, Interesting, People, Phil Greed

James Parker says Phil Greed is the most interesting person he knows on the Coffs Coast.  They are good friends and James values Phil’s philosophical view of life.  “Phil is a teacher at TAFE and an artist,” James explains.  “He went through a particularly bitter separation and now he’s arrived in a really nice place.  I think you’ll like him.”  James was right on all counts.

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A Life Shaped by Clay

Like one of his pots, Phil Greed’s life has been shaped by clay.   “Clay has been the one constant for me,” says Phil of his abiding passion.  As he talks about his life, loves and art, a sense of symmetry appears: whilst Phil’s life has been changed by clay, so too the joys and sorrows of living have influenced the shape and feeling of his pots. 

Although he looks like an artist, with his full head of tousled silver hair, a small silver goatee and a diamond stud in his left ear, it was serendipity that led Phil to art and clay in the first place.  Drifting between travel and study after high school, he applied to study ceramic design at Caulfield Institute of Technology, a decision he can’t explain to this day.    “I hadn’t drawn, I hadn’t painted, and I hadn’t touched clay”.  He took a rolled up sleeping bag to his interview in lieu of a portfolio because it was something he had ‘made’.  “I mean, it’s ludicrous,” Phil now acknowledges.  But somehow he was accepted, and later he was inspired to share his teachers’ love of clay. 

While inspiration came from his teachers, Phil’s grounding and confidence clearly come from his family. “My memories of my childhood are doing stuff with my Dad,” Phil says. “I suppose I learned a lot of stuff just hanging around him.”  The eldest of 4 children, Phil grew up in what he describes as a traditional household in Melbourne.  There is an unusual sense of peace and security when Phil talks about his childhood:  riding his bike up and down the driveway while Dad worked in the garden; visits to his father’s parents who ran the Ouyen Hotel in north western Victoria; Easters at Castlemaine with his Mum’s family; hiking with the Scouts with Dad as Scout leader.  One senses that the love and well being of Phil’s upbringing is reflected in the solidity and confident lines of his pots.

Ironically, Phil’s pots led him away from this extended family.  Having established his first studio in Eltham he found potting in Melbourne winters just too hard, so he and his wife, Lynne headed north to Coffs Harbour.  He bought a book about mud brick houses and sensing a connection to his love of clay, decided he would build one himself.  “If I’d thought about it a bit more maybe I wouldn’t have done it,” Phil says.  “But that’s the beauty of it.  I loved building: a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.”  The initial small dwelling was completed in 12 months and over the years as the family grew, Phil continued to extend the home.  The studio was rebuilt, the kilns were fired up and Phil started potting full time, supplying the Lake Russell Gallery and sending his work to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

However, the demands of child rearing began to pull Phil away from clay.  “When I’m working in clay I lose myself completely.  It’s very selfish and self indulgent.”  His art did not fit with the responsibilities of being a parent so he turned to part-time teaching with TAFE to provide a more stable source of income and to allow him time with his 3 boys.  Then his marriage started down a long path of decline; unhappiness and responsibility slowly suffocated his sense of creativity.  Potting fell increasingly by the wayside, as he threw his talents into teaching.

This period away from clay was difficult for Phil, but fortunate for aspiring young artists in our region.  Phil and fellow part time teacher, Linda White, transformed the Coffs Harbour TAFE arts program.  “We’ve grown from two classes a week back in the late 80s to teaching across five disciplines with a staff of 15-20 and 400 enrolled students.”  His early days learning about clay from inspiring teachers still drive Phil today.  “I felt I was fortunate and all I’ve ever wanted to do is provide that for other people.  It drives me to keep pushing and pushing to make things better.”

After separation in 2004, Phil left his mud brick home to start a new life and in the process suffered estrangement from his much loved eldest son.  His sorrow over this loss is palpable and one senses that sadness and regret has somehow become part of his being.

But this indelible stamp of sorrow is offset by the enduring love Phil clearly feels for his new partner Gayle.   “I’ve always felt this incredible ease being around her.  I talk about things that I wasn’t capable of talking about before.”  Gayle and Phil now share a home in Korora, with Gayle’s two children and Phil’s boys coming and going.

Ultimately love rekindled Phil’s creativity and brought him back to clay.  With Gayle’s support he took some long service leave and set up a studio in the garage.  For the last four years he has been taking time out from teaching to fire the kiln in his tiny garage studio and last February he had a show at the Grafton Regional Gallery.

Phil’s art is now shaped by his surroundings and by the highs and lows of his life.  “It’s a small space,” he explains, so that limits the scale of his work.  He says his pots are inspired by the Pandanus Tree, but one wonders if perhaps the hollow reeds represent his sadness and regrets and the beauty and tranquility of his pieces are inspired by his love for Gayle and the peace they have found in their life together.

No doubt life will continue to shape Phil’s clay, and he is confident that his best work is ahead of him.  “I’ve always felt that my next piece is going to be my best piece.  That’s why I can’t wait to get into clay, because I know as soon as I get into it, this may be my best piece yet.  That’s so exciting, it’s like an adrenaline hit for me.”

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Phil wanted to nominate Gayle as the most interesting person he knows, just to reinforce how central she is to his life.  In the end he decided to name Ray Rixon, a local painter who partnered with Phil in the exhibition in Grafton – Gayle agrees.  “He’s a painter, a school teacher and a yoga master,” she explains.  “He has a great presence….a calmness that you don’t often find.”  I’m intrigued.

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