Tom Phillips

A Humument - A Treated Victorian Novel


Page Count:392
ISBN:978 0500290439
Publisher:Thames & Hudson
Dimensions:18cm x 14cm
A Humument - A Treated Victorian Novel

In 1966 artist Tom Phillips set himself a task: to find a second-hand book for threepence and alter every page by painting, collage and cut-up techniques to create an entirely new version. He found his threepenny novel in a junk shop on Peckham Rye, South London. This was an obscure 1892 Victorian novel, A Human Document, by W. H. Mallock. He titled his altered book A Humument. The first version of all 367 treated pages was published in 1973. This fifth edition incorporates more than 80 new pages and the project continues to be a work in progress. It is now one of the best known and loved of all 20th-century artist’s books and has become a cult classic.

The artist writes, ‘I took a forgotten novel found by chance. I mined, and undermined its text to make it yield alternative stories, erotic incidents and surrealist catastrophes which lurked within its wall of words. I replaced with visual images the text I’d stripped away. It began to tell, amongst other memories, dreams and reflections, the sad story of Bill Toge, one of love’s casualties.’

Within this small format Tom Phillips has made the arts connect, bringing Wagner’s idea of ‘a comprehensive work of art’ to pocketbook proportions. It is considered by many in the words of Bill Hurrell, the ‘defining masterpiece of postmodernism’.

'The first work of Tom Phillips to impinge on my consciousness was his utterly original, delightful and idiosyncratic A Humument. This still ongoing project, started in the 1960s consists of the forgotten Victorian novel A Human Document... painted over in various modes, figurative and abstract, realistic and surreal, leaving little patches of texts showing through, like the ‘thinks’ bubbles in a comic strip, joined up to make a fragmentary story, speech or poem which may be funny, mysterious, saucy or sad' – David Lodge via Thames & Hudson