In the mid-1960s, Tom Phillips took a forgotten nineteenth-century novel, W. H. Mallock’s A Human Document, and began working over the extant text to create something new. The artist writes, “I plundered, mined, and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents, and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lurk within its wall of words. As I worked on it, I replaced the text I’d stripped away with visual images of all kinds. It began to tell and depict, among other memories, dreams, and reflections, the sad story of Bill Toge, one of love’s casualties.”
After its first publication in book form in 1980, A Humument rapidly became a cult classic. This new fifth edition follows its predecessors by incorporating Phillip’s latest revisions and reworkings, and celebrates an artistic enterprise that is forty-five years old and still actively a work in progress.
An object both jaggedly modern …and densely wondrous as a medieval illumination.
A more thorough lifting of layers reveals linguistic, artistic, metaphysical issues that are as many and various and essential as those in a text by Aristotle…The field of collage, of color and line …releases outbursts of words that find themselves in an altogether new syntactical space; and there, like notes, they sing a painted music.
— William Glass Artforum
One of the most winning and witty artistic experiments of recent times.
— Washington Post
A wonderful entertainment …full of humor, visual invention, and the peculiar poignancy of unnoticed meanings in the very lay and spelling of printed words.
— San Francisco Chronicle
The English painter, writer, and composer Tom Phillips curated the groundbreaking exhibition “Africa: The Art of the Continent” at the Royal Academy in 1992. He is himself a collector of African art, specializing in the arts of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. His other books include The Postcard Century.