Friday, 12 November 2010

A Humument

When I interviewed John Coulthart a few months back, he drew my attention to his post on an artist of whom I was only vaguely aware and had been meaning to investigate further, Tom Phillips.

The cover of Brian Eno's album Another Green World has a detail of a painting by Phillips, After Raphael (1972), and Eno's Thursday Afternoon also uses a piece by the artist (with design by Russell Mills). Phillips taught Eno at the Ipswich School of Art.

At the moment I'm reading the fourth edition of Phillips' "treated Victorian novel", A Humument. Taking a forgotten 1892 novel by W.H. Mallock, A Human Document, he

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 the text I'd stripped away with visual images of all kinds. I began to tell and depict, among other memories, dreams and reflections, the sad story of Bill Toge, one of love's casualties.

It's an astonishing work, and far funnier than you might think such an exercise could be. First published in 1980, A Humument is still a work in progress, with constant updates and revisions. More than half the pages in the fourth edition have been altered since the first, which you can see in its entirety at

More on Phillips: his official website and blog; Wikipedia; 1, 2, 3 posts at {Feuilleton}.

Tom Phillips, Mythology, 1976

Tom Phillips, Grand Sonata, 1967

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