“As in the paradox of the poet freed by rhyme, the artist can be liberated by a system of great rigidity.” – Tom Phillips
Tom Phillips’ oeuvre is broad ranging. from pastels and paintings to his portraits of Samuel Beckett, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and the Monty Python team and his own translation and illustrations to Dante’s Inferno. The melding of visual art with textual content is a hallmark of his work but the artist is perhaps best-known for his work A Humument: a project he began in 1966 when he decided to make a work from the first second-hand book he could find for threepence: this was a 1892 Victorian novel titled A Human Document by W. H. Mallock. A Humument involved altering every page of the book using paint, collage, and cut up techniques to create an entirely new version. His project has run for over fifty years in which time the original book has been entirely transformed several times. Phillips explains “I took a forgotten Victorian novel I plundered, mined and undermined its text to make it yield ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lurk within its wall of words.