A Humument 5th edition

A Humument

A Treated Victorian Novel

  1. Tom Phillips
  • ISBN 9780500290439
  • 17.50 x 12.50 cm
  • Flexibound with flaps
  • 392pp
  • Illustrated in colour throughout
  • First published 2012
‘The closest thing a paperback book has come to being an art object’ – New York Times
‘A strange, beguiling work … a teeming world of humour, sex, sadness and art’ – London Review of Books

Fifth Edition

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 since when there have been four revised editions and an App. It is now one of the best known and loved of all 20th-century artist’s books and has become a cult classic.

This edition incorporates more than 80 new pages and, in its forty-fifth year, the project continues to be a work in progress.

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

Tom Phillips was born in 1937 and has lived and worked in London all his life. Although best known as a painter whose work is represented in museum collections all over the world, he also has a considerable reputation as a writer. His TV collaboration with Peter Greenaway A TV Dante is available as a DVD and as a composer his opera Irma and his set of songs Six of Hearts both appear on CD. A Humument also exists as an App for iPad and iPhone. He plans to exhibit the work in its entirety in the USA (at MASS MoCA) in 2013. For further information about the artist visit tomphillips.co.uk.

Other titles by Tom Phillips for Thames & Hudson:

Tom Phillips: Works & Texts with 500 illustrations
A Cabinet of Rarities: Antiquarian Obsessions and the Spell of Death