Dr Phillip George
Ric Welcome Dr Phillip George to The Art of Making Marks. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Dr Phil Well I’ve been, Originally I trained as an artist in, painting, drawing and photography, print making, all those sorts of things at art school and then got into digital image making in about 1989/90 and started working with digital pixel based practice, so photograph and painting on a computer. So my work I suppose has evolved into what they call digital imaging these days but I see it more as an evolution of painting and so I use hand marks, I use photographic work and I make these very large scale mural works. I use Painter, Live Picture and Photoshop generally. I just finished my Doctorate, so it’s now Dr Phillip George. University of New South Wales College of Fine Art. I work in the digital media area and lecture in digital imaging. We have undergraduate programs, masters programs, honours programs and going up to PHD level so it’s right across the board and I lecture in all those areas and was head of the School of Media Arts until about two years ago. So I established the digital media degree at the College of Fine Arts. Got it up and running and then jumped ship and I still teach there and do my own research plus digital and photographic base work.
Ric So you’re one of those guys who really knows what’s going on?
Dr Phil Well maybe we’re about to work that out. [Laughs]
Ric In the work that you’ve been doing over the years, how long have you been using Wacom tablets?
Dr Phil Well I actually started off using a Summergraphics tablets in about 1990 so it’s from the very first computer I ever bought I was using tablets and then from when I got rid of the Window machine, getting onto Mac I started using Wacoms from very early on. I’ve always used a tablet from 1990 up until present. I’ve never been without it. In fact I even use it for word processing. Everything I do on the computer I tend to use a tablet for.
Ric You actually just reminded me of my Summergraphics tablet although it was never very useful on my Mac plus! I to had migrated to Wacom by the time I had my Mac II, but sorry I digress and so what sort of tablet do you use now?
Dr Phil I’ve got a Wacom, the Intuous3 which is probably the best tablet I’ve actually ever used. The pen’s really ergonomically very, very good and I recommend it to all my students. I think I get the student in first year on their second week and I tell them, ‘here’s a Wacom tablet, use it or get RSI.’ And that’s part of our occupational health and safety speech and the only two things I ever ask my students to go and buy pretty quickly, is a portable hard drive and a Wacom tablet.
Ric Very pleased to hear that and you know I’m not just saying that because I work for Wacom.
Dr Phil Well it’s critical. I mean it’s just not for making marks on a computer, but actually using a Wacom is an occupational health and safety solution. I think because people who use a mouse to make work just end up with RSI in a week, you know, it’s just stupid. So, the amount of time digital people work on a computer, you’ve got to have a Wacom. It’s just an essential thing.
Ric So now Phil, could you tell us, about your work displayed in this book, how you go about doing them, and the software tools that you use?
Dr Phil From probably 93/94 on, I’ve been using essentially Live Picture and I still use Live Picture on an older machine with a tablet and my work is generally very large scale. I’ve got images installed in the Deutsche Bank building. There’s one image there that’s eight metres long and three metres high. So all the work I do is relatively large scale.
Ric What size file would that be?
Dr Phil A several gigabyte file. Yes, several gigs and because I use Live Picture I can, I generally still shoot film, medium format film, scan six by seven film at three or four thousand BPI and I’ll composite hundreds of transparencies and digital shots together so there could be several gigabytes of data in one image and some of the images I’m going to supply to the book of the older work, it’s very complex work, called momonic notation which is sort of a series on memory and there’s many, many images that are overlaid and overlaid and overlaid.
So you might have 20 or 30 transparencies or digital files overlaid each other and then constructed using Live Picture essentially. Then I use a little bit of Photoshop to do some cleaning up here and there but I still essentially do most of the big works in, in Live Picture and, and some cleaning up and maybe some works in, in Photoshop and Painter. So, yeah still very big fan of Live Picture.
Some of the works I’ve done are large scale four and a half metre long images of Little Bay and that’s just photographs of Australian coastline but they’ve been inlaid with iconography from the Middle East and from Greece and it looks like almost people landing there and then doing their mark making and graffiti almost and then moving on into the country. And moving into stuff I’m doing today, within the Middle East. I’m doing large scale works on the border lands of various countries. I’ve done a series called the border lands of empires so there’s very large scale works of archaeological sites and you might see falling debris of burning embers and burning bits of manuscripts. I was looking at the destruction of culture in the Middle East in particular.
So it all has a relationship, the work you can see over a period of time, it has a sort of connection to the memory and then going from personal memory to public memory. When you go to public memory, we call that history, so it’s looking at the historic and the geopolitical and the cultural. So it crosses all of those areas and also the work on Border Land is photographic, it’s painterly and it’s digital. It’s all of those things.
Some of the work I used to do, I’d put onto canvas and paint over it as well. So some of the work went from literally doing painting on a computer to a canvas that I’d then paint over again and represent that as a painting. These days I’m doing a bit more output onto just photographic based material but still coming from that mark making and painting background.
Ric Fantastic and so where do you feel that the Wacom tablet best helps you to innovate in your work?
Dr Pil I come from the painting tradition, I use brushes. That’s how I think. So without a Wacom I can’t work. It’s as simple as that. It just is so critical, it’s so fundamental.
Ric It is the actual innovation?
Ric Everything. It’s just not possible to use something like a mouse as an interface. I’ve never had a computer without some sort of graphic tablet interface so for the last 17 years I’ve been using a pen as an interface and it’s an impossibility to even conceive working without one. It is just not possible. It’s like having a camera without a lens.
Ric If you had the opportunity to look into the future of technology, and have some innovation from Wacom now, something that you feel maybe lacking for you at this point in time, what might that be?
Dr Phil A tablet that you can move around with you, so it’s a wireless tablet. I’m not sure if you’ve got them already.
Ric Yes we do have a wireless Bluetooth tablet.
Dr Phil Yeah, Bluetooth! I haven’t used a Bluetooth but that’s one thing that would be handy. But in terms of innovation, gees I’m pretty happy, pretty happy with the way it is. The levels of sensitivity for me are very, very important, so the more sensitivity one can get. Because I use Live Picture, I’ll zoom into the pixel level or even the film grain level and modify my work at the granular level. I actually have one file, it’s a Live Picture file, but if I printed it, it would be 100 feet long and one metre high. It’s a seven gigabyte file. So you can imagine how you can zoom in endlessly. It’s a photograph which was taken from a boat at Sydney Heads and follows the cliffs right down to Bondi, so it’s a six kilometre stretch of coastline. I think something like 37, 6×7 transparencies scanned at 3000 dpi, something ridiculous. And so I need to get into detail and actually modify things so when you look at it and you zoom back on it, the work that I do is invisible, it’s seamless. So for me all the innovation from Wacom would be looking at improvements in sensitivity which is pretty good anyway, but that sort of area for me would be the most important thing and perhaps with software I suppose, getting software to keep up with the demands of being able to work seamlessly. If you pick up a pencil and you scribble on a wall, you want the tablet to respond as fast as you can think.
But I think it’s doing a pretty good job of that. Where it may not necessarily be the tablets problem, it might be some software problem where you might have some brushes that are so memory hungry that it slows down your creativity. So it may not necessarily be Wacom, it actually may be the software manufactures that need to do better tricks with their memory management. So it’s a bit hard to say. But those are sort of things I’d like plus sensitivity and the freedom to roam with a Wacom as well.
Ric Moores Law predicts the on going march of increased CPU processor power and so that response time you are talking about will just continue to get better. I had an interesting conversation with Russell Brown from Adobe around the time I was still using Live Picture and he said that Photoshop was going to stay committed to the technology they were based on and just allow the increase in processing power to solve any real competition from Live Picture they had at the time. So I guess he was right Live Picture is gone and forgotten for most people. Glad to see you’re keeping Live Picture alive! Thank you for your insights on Art of Making Marks.
Dr Phil Fantastic, love it, thank you.