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 50th anniversary edition presents an entirely new and complete version of A Humument, including a revised Introduction by the artist, reflecting on the last 50 years' work on this project, and 92 new illustrated pages.
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’.