The following sing I a book.
September 17, 2002 3:00 PM   Subscribe

The following sing I a book. a book of art. of mind art as that which he hid reveal I. Tom Phillips made his first Humument pages in 1966 and continues to make them. He drew new meanings out of a forgotten Victorian novel - A Human Document by W.H. Mallock - by painting over or otherwise obscuring most of the words on the page, leaving pithy fragments. The result is wonderfully allusive, poetic and occasionally wise as well as beautiful to look at. He's used it to comment on Dante's Inferno and Joyce's Ullysses, made a sort of opera out of it, and it's dead postmodern to boot.
posted by Grangousier (11 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
See also his yearly walk around South London, 20 sites n years, and maybe read this interview with him and Brian Eno, who he taught at Ipswich in the 1960s.
posted by Grangousier at 3:01 PM on September 17, 2002

Oh, it was inspired by the Cleanlinks thread. Sometimes messing with art makes better art.
posted by Grangousier at 3:04 PM on September 17, 2002

(Clean flicks. Arse. I'll shut up now before I make it even worse.)
posted by Grangousier at 3:05 PM on September 17, 2002

Oh, this is lovely. I'd forgotten about Tom Phillips. Thanks, Grangousier.
posted by ceiriog at 3:26 PM on September 17, 2002

I actually met (if shaking hands with counts as meeting) Tom Phillips last summer at an academic conference in Tours, France. He gave a brilliant lecture on his mentor Frank Auerbach and told some riveting anecdotes about nearly everything under the sun. He was, as Grangousier describes his work, "wonderfully allusive, poetic and occasionally wise."
posted by josephtate at 3:29 PM on September 17, 2002

Reminds me of Crispin Glover's books. Anyone read "Rat Catching?"
posted by saltykmurks at 4:47 PM on September 17, 2002

I have. I own Oak Mot, purchased on his movie tour of What Is It. I bought it after thumbing thru it for a second or two, recognizing the "Humument" style and thought that what Tom Phillips had spun into beautiful mysteries, i was sure Crispin Glover could turn inside out.

Not to insult the weird genius of the man, but they're only ok - as "odd" as anyone with a pencil could muster themselves with an old text. They pale in comparison to Phillips work, from which they seem a direct derivative.
posted by nyoki at 5:52 PM on September 17, 2002

Funny about Tom Phillips. Like everyone, when I first saw them, I was knocked out by them (this must be about 20 years ago). BUT, he keeps doing them and doing them and doing them and, in certain avant-lit circles, they've become a rather tired cliche. (They've also spawned legions of pale imitators).

It's a funny thing about the art world: an artist gets a style, gets some recognition, gains a market, and keeps churning out variations on a theme ad infinitum. Look at Rauschenberg: he's now plastering frescoes with xeroxes. Not a bad idea, but the results are a ghost of what he was doing in his heyday back, say, in the early 60s.
posted by ubueditor at 6:32 PM on September 17, 2002

Thanks, Grangousier - I'm including this with my next Amazon order. I also found this site, that compares older and revised versions of certain pages from the 1980 and 1997 editions.
posted by taz at 11:36 PM on September 17, 2002

ubueditor - The thing about The Humument for me is that it's a work in progress, much like 20 Sites n Years - if Phillips had photographed his route for one year it would simply have been an eccentric excursion. The fact that it's become this yearly ritual (which will pass to the next generation - his son has agreed to take it over) is what makes it fascinating to those of us who do find it fascinating.

Similarly, The Humument has a continuity. has become a sort of kabbalistic thing. Phillips is a practicing artist, part of that practice being traditional artworks a part of it being literary and The Humument and 20 Sites form another part. Anyway, I think the newer pages are just as good as the older ones, so... er... nyaaah.

I think it would have been weaker if he'd taken to using other books - "Bugger Mallock, it's Jilly Cooper's turn" - but the fact that there's this consistent worrying away at this one text is what gives it its strength.

Although, as always, YMMV.
posted by Grangousier at 12:09 AM on September 18, 2002

Phillips also had a hand in the cover art of King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black album, placing the text "this night wounds time" on the back.
posted by Accidental Angel at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2002

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