A Humument

Phillips, Tom.
Mallock, W.H.
A Humument: a novel, after W.H. Mallock
London: Christmas 1966 to October 1973. [Tetrad Press, 1975]. (12258)

From Tom Phillips (b. 1937): “A Humument has been a work in progress since 1966 when 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. The book he found was an 1892 Victorian obscurity A Human Document by W.H. Mallock (1849–1923) and Phillips transformed it into A Humument. The first version was printed by the Tetrad press in 1973, and Phillips has continued to transform it, revise it and develop it ever since.”

A Humument has been a favorite of book artists, authors, and artists who are transfixed by artist’s books for years. On first glance it seems like a simple idea, transform each page with drawing, painting, and collage sometimes obliterating the page completely, while other pages contain highlighted sentences, and/or words. The result is so fascinating, yet beautiful, haunting, and sometimes bewildering. The desire is to spend hours studying each page such as the exhibited page from Volume I in which the text is excavated leaving a gorgeous white, calligraphic line, and exposed text reading, “the moment came for art, and, assembling and glittering and, the Princess arrangements, and R_________, and to have eyebrows slightly raised.” There are 367 leaves to explore, and one might see a completely different page or subtle changes from edition to edition as Tom Phillips has continued to revamp pages.

Included in Bridwell Library Special Collections is a separate page (p. 303) altered specifically for the library by Tom Phillips. The words left exposed include, “God is a woman theologian or theologian[s] say”; “Theologian[s] swear that light is a word without beginning”; and lastly, “another sacred morning dawning dark and hard.” The background is painted to resemble a stained-glass window with light bouncing off the windows. The page is inscribed “for Bridwell Library” with Tom Phillips’ signature.

Phillips’ body of work includes drawings, paintings, wire sculptures, collages (including using pages of The Humument as exhibited artworks), murals, textiles, and music. He is also a well-known portrait artist and has composed music with his friend and collaborator Brian Eno. His artwork was exhibited in 2013 at MASS MoCA and included a comprehensive exhibition of The Humument.

© 2021 Tom Phillips / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London

A Humument