Tom Philips / A Humument

Humument: A Human Document

During one of our GITR sessions our group went to the library where we had the chance to go through a few good examples of beautiful artist books including two copies of Tom Philips’s Humument: A Human Document. A Human Document, originally by W H Mallock, is, “a forgotten Victorian novel found by chance […] plundered, mined, and undermined […] to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems and replaced the text [he’d] stripped away with visual images of all kinds.” ( The result is an enchanting book where each page is an artwork on its own – one strange unpredictable arrangement of words and textures/colours after another.

What started out as “idle play” grew into a project “lasting half a lifetime.” When Tom Philips started the book (in 1966) he had in mind not visual imagery but cut up poetry. “it was not long before the possibility became apparent of making a synthesis of word and image” and “painting (in acrylic gouache) became the basic technique.”

When I first saw the book I thought it was impossible for all the pages to be illustrated and yet they were. Books like that, they don’t just make me think, they inspire me as they let me see consistency and order, colours, words, communication, exploration and so much more. Books like that  open a world of possibilities.


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