On page 302 of Tom Phillips' A Humument, Phillips creates a cause-and-effect relationship that explains his philosophical reason for the existence of hell. This view is presented to the audience by his simplistic, yet revealing, use of color and shape that depicts a descent into darkness, biblical references in the form of numerology, and interjections of staccato text, which appear as if they are interjecting thoughts in a degenerating psyche. Together, these techniques create a situation where the carnal emotions of man send the reader on a self-reflective journey to discover the darkest parts of their own nature, and the consequences for acting on such dark emotions.
At first glance, the most prominent object on page 302 of A Humument is, in fact, the only colored object on the page. Sitting in the center of the top of the page against a solid black background is an unnerving blood-red object. This irregularly-shaped spot extends about a third of the way down the page, terminating in a circular shape that oddly enough looks like a flow of blood pooling on a flat surface. The shape of this object both hints at the spilling of blood, and starts the downward progression of the observers eye which leads to the other objects in the image. Additionally, the color of the object (a dark blood-red), in combination with the black background of the piece, gives the entire piece a sinister tone. Phillips use of this specific shade of red is extremely important as well to the overall tone of the piece. Pure red is a vibrant color- used to show liveliness, energy, and passion. Blood-red, however, is a muddy and dark shade of red which hints at the corruption of this energy and passion. It symbolizes all of the darker passions that arise within human awareness, such as hatred, anger, and destructive feelings. Combined, all of these factors demonstrate that it is all of these darker emotions that contribute to the degeneration of the human mind into a hellish environment, which can be viewed as a method of self-induced quarantine.
Directly below this red shape is the most prominent piece of text on the page. In the center, slightly above the horizontal midline of the page, is “CHAPTER XXX” written in all capital letters. This holds a symbolic biblical meaning, as the number thirty (XXX read as a roman numeral) equates to divine order in biblical numerology. Also, these words are surrounded by a parchment-colored oval, which is the only circular object on the page. Circles are also interpreted to have an extremely spiritual meaning, as they represent unity, infinity, and perfection. This further strengthens the religious allusions present in this piece. Divine order becomes the driving force behind the work as a whole, and is philosophically hinted at more prominently towards the end of the observers experience with the piece. This selection of words is connected by two extremely thin parchment-colored lines, reminiscent of a lightning bolts, that shoot both upwards and downwards in order to connect the oval with “sorrow/ materials” above it and “the emotions of men” below it. In context, divine order becomes the unifying concept between all “sorrow/ materials” and all of “the emotions of men”. This reveals to the observer that when viewed through the eyes of a higher power, it is his/her own human nature that causes their own pain and suffering. Diction is also important here, as the blame is only placed upon the emotions “of men”, or in other words, those emotions that correspond to the darker side of humanity. Interestingly enough, these are the same emotions that are connected to the color blood-red.
Descending from “the emotions of men” is another off-white line which juts sharply downward into the black background before forking into two separate lines, each terminating at another piece of text. The eye’s descent down the page is both literal and figurative, as it also represents the descent into the darker realms of existence. One of the paths terminate in a simple phrase, which sounds more like an observation than anything else. Here, the observer learns that “hell is/ torments”, immediately being faced the horrible consequences of their darker “emotions”, which are prescribed by the divine order embodied by the number XXX. Ironically, the second pathway leads to a second observation, stating tersely “tongs, supplied”. Tongs are tools used by blacksmiths to manipulate metal at extremely high temperatures, like those associated with the burning fires of hell. The ironic message transmitted here is that thankfully, although a soul has found itself in hell, tongs are “supplied” so they do not burn themself.
Finally, at the very bottom of the page, is a block of text that is completely isolated. Fittingly enough, this text is “separated/ once for all”, and indeed it is the only text in the entire piece that is not connected to any other block of text. It is the lowest object on the page, and the last thing that the eye is drawn to. It reflects on the divine order theme hinted at by the roman numeral XXX, as well as eliciting a tone of quarantine and preservation.
It is here that a philosophical reason for hell is suggested at as well. When a person’s dark passions overtake them and they are sent down to hell, shown by the downward progression of the words on the page, they are effectively “separated/ once” from the rest of creation “for [the sake of] all”. Here is where the entire rest of the piece is put into perspective; where the cause (“the emotions of men” and all “sorrow/ materials”), the effect (placement into “hell”), and the reason interrelating the cause and effect (separation “for [the sake of] all”) is revealed.