JE Phil, can you give me a little bit of background about yourself and how you start making art?
PG I’m a 60-year-old Melbournite, growing up in the bayside suburb of Cheltenham, I spent my high school years in Glen Waverley. My first studio workshop post-college was in Eltham before moving to Coffs Harbour the following year in 1983. I currently live in Korora with my wife Gayle and I happily pot and work in a small space.
I was interested in drawing at a young age but had no formal training in the arts until 1978 when I enrolled in a four- year Degree in Ceramic Design at what was then called Caulfield Institute of Technology. It was to be a defining moment.
JE What mediums do you work with? Do you have a favorite?
PG In the beginning, I felt as though clay found me; rather than the other way around. For over 35 years I have been cultivating my passion for ceramic art, which, nowadays, is mainly inspired by my environment and explores my interest in surface and texture.
I love the natural purity and tactility of clay. I get lost in the fluidity of the material whether I am wheel forming or hand building, together with the magic and fascination of glazing and firing. I work with porcelain a lot, so the work tends to be fine. Good design and attention to detail is important to me. Inspiration for my work comes from lots of places, lots of sources, past and present, informative and informative. I think about ceramics a lot!
I have always been fascinated by the alchemy of glaze and the firing process; the possibilities seem endless. My upcoming show at 1st Avenue Gallery will exhibit work that is multi fired in order to achieve the results I am searching for. I work with a few glazes ‘passed on’ by teachers I had when I studied Ceramic Design in Melbourne many years ago. They are fired at different temperatures and produce a rainbow of colour depending on the application and combinations used. I am constantly testing the same glazes but looking for subtle differences and variations to highlight the textured surface.
JE Can you tell me about some of your previous exhibitions and achievements?
PG As a graduating student, I began my career as a production thrower exhibiting work at galleries in Warrandyte (Melbourne), Canberra, Sydney and the North Coast. This continued after moving to Coffs Harbour, where I also became a regular exhibitor at Lake Russell Gallery with solo shows in 1986 and 1995.
I have also been involved with selected group shows and award exhibitions, including The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize and the Manning Art Prize, where I was the winner of the 3D section in 2011.
From 2010 to 2014 I exhibited ceramic forms at various galleries with my good friend and painter Ray Rixon, including ‘#4’ at NERAM in Armidale 2014; ‘Coastal Edge’ at The Art Factory, Coffs Harbour, in 2013; ‘Pandanus tectorius’, Dorrigo Rainforest Centre in 2012 and ‘Pandanus tectorius’, Grafton Regional Gallery in 2010.
In May 2015 I had a solo show at The Glasshouse in Port Macquarie.
JE What is your view regarding the art scene on the Mid North Coast?
PG I’m a founding member of Coastal ClayMakers Inc., a group formed in 2004 to promote and encourage the study of ceramics by means of lectures, discussions, excursions, projects and practical workshops to potters on the Mid North Coast of NSW. It has maintained a membership of nearly 50 people over the past 11 years.
Although working in the arts is often challenging, this region is rich with many talented artists and some very supportive and encouraging curators willing to provide exhibition space.
I’ve also taught at North Coast TAFE for many years. I’m passionate about the difference education can make to people’s lives. I work with an inspiring group of teachers and support staff. It can be a dynamic environment and rewarding to be a part of.
JE Are there any artists that have influenced or inspired you?
PG I remember being in a lecture theatre with 60 first year students and thinking what am I doing here! By the time I got to second year I knew I belonged. I was fortunate to have some wonderful teachers who inspired a love of clay that has sustained me for over 35 years. Bryan Trueman, Joe Zsirer, Paul Davis, Cole Sopov were all wonderful craftsmen. I also admire and have been influenced by the work of Gwyn Hanssen-Pigott and Peter Travis.
My collaboration with Ray Rixon has taught me a lot about a painterly approach to the decorative surface and the subtlety and possibilities of application.
IB Your Pandanus sculptures have such a developed and personalised style. Did this come from an aha moment or was it something you came to over time?
PG I think it was a response to my years of experience with clay and being in a certain place at the right time. It did not happen in a moment but it happened over time. I was definitely looking for something. I had been teaching for 15 or so years; I felt very fortunate for the training I had received and I really wanted to share the joy of working with clay with other people. I really enjoyed the giving back of being a teacher, but when I became a Head Teacher I found that I was having less contact with the students and less time in the workshop. I felt I was losing touch with my own practice.
At this time I sat down with my wife Gayle and talked about how I could get back into my practice and we decided I should take a two month period of leave from teaching in 2008. I had a small studio space in the garage and I was looking to reacquaint myself with clay. When I look back in hindsight everything I have done in the last 7 years really had its genesis in that period.
I got back into my practice. Having a small space to work in made me think about the sort of work I wanted to produce. In this process I made a conscious decision to move away from throwing production work on the wheel and to focus on making work that was hand built and more sculptural.
I have always been fascinated by the pandanus palm and I love the way they cling to life on the rock faces on our coastline. Their sense of survival, their forms, the texture of the trunks and how the aerial roots appear to make them look like they are clinging to life. One day during my leave from work, I went on a trip with a mate who worked in National Parks and he took me to Pebbly Beach in Yuraygir National Park. I took a whole heap of photos of the pandanus palms focusing on the details of their trunks. I reproduced these photos and put them around me on the walls of my studio.
The texture of the trunks of the pandanus seemed like time lines for people and the lives we live. All the scarring and the knobbly bits are like the things that happen to us along the way in our own life journeys. When I look back at my initial inspiration for the way that the pandanus clings to life on the rock face, I see this like a metaphor for people's lives and the ways in which we survive. This may not be obvious in the work but this is what I am thinking when I create these forms.
I started to mess around with clay trying to recreate the patterns and texture of the trunks of the pandanus palms. The whole concept of the hollow cones was me trying to recreate what I could see in nature with clay. The forms grew out of that process.
Playing with the clay I came up with all these tricks to create the texture of the work using all the technical knowledge that has been taught to me as a student. I have always been into the fine detail within the work and the texture I was creating satisfied this . You need a certain finesse with the material and it's best not to over work the clay. Sometimes the more you try to handle the clay the more contrived what you are trying to do becomes. I was able to use my past experience to produce these pandanus forms, and they have evolved over time.
It may not be immediately obvious in the work but I started to think about the human element to the forms. The texture of the trunks of the pandanus is almost like time lines for people and the lives we live. All the scarring and the knobbly bits are like the things that happen to us along the way in our own life journeys. When I look back at my initial inspiration for the way that the pandanus clings to life on the rock face, I see this like a metaphor for people's lives and the ways in which we survive. This may not be obvious in the work but this is what I am thinking when I create these forms.
IB So are these forms also an expression of your own life and journey?
PG The underlying feeling for me is my love of working with the material of clay and getting completely engrossed in the work. It's enough for me to celebrate being creative with a medium I feel so comfortable working with. While you are working you are thinking about lots of different things that are feeding into and informing the work, but ultimately it is around the aesthetics of the work that take precedence . I love curved forms and the soft lines you can create. The Line of a form is really important to me in the works that I make.
The form must have a certain balance to it too. I look at objects in terms of the negative shape, not just the positive space they occupy. This was something I was taught at College. The space around the object defines the form, it provides a deeper sensitivity to see the Object itself. I don’t take this ability for granted but feel I was really lucky to have the teachers I had.
JE Phil, tell me about the body of work you are producing for your upcoming solo exhibition at 1st Avenue Gallery in January 2016.
PG Speaking about the body of work that I’m creating for my upcoming solo exhibition at 1st Avenue Gallery, each exhibition is not only a chance to showcase the artwork, but also an opportunity to play with the space. My exhibitions become an installation because of the character and design of the venue.
For the upcoming exhibition, 1st Avenue Gallery is like a blank canvas, full of possibility on floor and wall. Hanging pods, still life arrangements, sculptures displayed on plinths, framed pieces; there is a lot of space to take advantage of and for the viewer to explore.
While recent work has been mostly hand formed, I also decided to make some functional work for this show. Nights in the studio had me reflecting on the knowledge I learnt from skilled and generous teachers many years ago. It was fun to enjoy the rhythmic and meditative practice of wheel throwing again using traditional chun, shino and copper red glazes.
JE What is the best piece of advice you would give in relation to being an artist?
PG Despite my years of experience in the field, I am still figuring it out for myself, so I would be reluctant to offer advice! But simply, it’s important to listen and learn, work at your craft, stay focused, be disciplined, practice as often as possible, and embrace the opportunity to be creative!
JE Lastly, what are some memorable responses you have had to your art?
PG While mostly favorable, there was one memorable tale many years ago where a former student delighted in sharing a story about how they acquired a’ Phil Greed’ ceramic trinket box at a trash and treasure market for the princely sum of one dollar! Much laughter entailed – so much for the saying that artwork appreciates in value!
Over the years I have appreciated my friends’ support and their purchasing of my work. I often wonder where it all goes. Occasionally you hear stories from Gallery Directors. I remember being informed that Tom Uren purchased a work from Lake Russell Gallery many years ago as a gift for his good friend Carlotta! Wheel throwing demonstrations still remind people of the movie Ghost!
JE Phil what are your goals for the future as an artist?
PG I'm just happy to still be practicing and working in an area that I am passionate about….I’m thinking more about the present at the moment, and enjoying the serendipity and flow of ideas. Clay has been a constant in my adult life, which I am grateful for.