R5 – The work of Charles Avery


Charles Avery

All web sites accessed 01/07/2017

‘Through an extended series of meticulous drawings and bold sculptures, London-based artist Charles Avery has created a fictional land simply called “the Island.” Avery’s entire body of work since 2004 has been devoted to the exploration and expansion of the customs, people, and cosmologies of this imagined place.’ https://www.artsy.net/artist/charles-avery   

His evocation of the Island is mainly through intricate and detailed watercolour drawings, but also encompasses painting, sculpture, text and print.  To say the Island culture is a complete fiction isn’t quite true, as it is clearly based on our own modern, western world in some respects (clothes, people’s appearance for example).  But he is imagining another world with fascinating differences from our own.  
Rebecca Partridge states ‘There are few contemporary artists whose practices travel the same imaginative distance as Charles Avery‘s. Initially a ten-year project, now a lifetime endeavour, ‘The Islanders’ is an entirely visual and textual depiction, part-excavation, of an imaginary island and its people.’  Berlin Art Link, 2017, at http://www.berlinartlink.com/2017/03/28/charles-avery/. The artist, however, comes from an island himself, also part of a larger archipelago, and its quite likely in my view that his own environment exerts a significant influence on the portrayal of the imaginary Island.

Brian Dillon, in an article for Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, speculating on the provenance for the Island, mentions the floating island from Gullivers Travels, and H.G.Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau ( http://www.pilarcorrias.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Avery_modern-painters_jan-2009.pdf).  Avery’s Island culture reminds me of Herodotus and his stories of other cultures in The Histories, 5c.BC,  (trans. Herodotus The Histories, Penguin Books 1996) with their weird and wonderful customs, fantastic monsters and so on – a mix of imagination, exagerration and reality, tall tales and conjecture. Herodotus though, insisted the marvels he described were faithfully reported by him from his own real travel experiences and other reliable sources. In both Avery’s and Herodotus work we can say fact and fiction exist side by side.
Herodotus came from the Greek city of Halicarnassus, present day Bodrum, on the western coast of Anatolia, which would have had close contact with the non-Greek Carian people of the region, from whom some among my neighbours are surely descended. I imagine myself standing in Herodotus’ shoes.  With The Histories stowed in my boat, I sailed years ago through other mediterranean worlds to Caria and found a new and previously unimagined world here in which I’ve settled.  I can still observe my rural village world as though I’m seeing it for the first time, its people and culture are so ‘other’, and always surprising me. 

My thoughts for part 5 are developing along the lines of somehow portraying this ‘foreign’ world (in which I am admittedly the foreigner) and my experiences of it, from the mundane to the surprising, so that the viewer can enter my world, and I can record my experiences and memories of it, against the day when inevitably I will leave for the last time.

My concern is that I don’t romanticise or exoticise.  In making my collection I need to avoid anything twee, sentimental, romantic, picturesque.  i would like to make work based on the observation of an anthropologist. Many of Avery’s drawings depict with cool detachment groups of Islanders in their environment, going about their ordinary everyday lives. In Avery’s work there are drawings of everyday objects, and there are physical objects too, ostensibly brought back to the ‘real’ world by visitors to the Island and installed in Avery’s exhibitions.  I’ve thought about what ordinary everyday objects I would include or depict in my collection – I listed some of them in my previous post here.  Other areas for investigation and possible inclusion are flora and fauna, geography, social practices, transport, industry, headgear, religious practices, ….My collection might include, as well as paintings, drawings, found objects, found images, posters, text, sounds, video.  There is potentially a rich seam of ideas here which may carry me through into Level 2, as I can only hope to cover a small proportion of what I have in mind.
Like Avery’s Island, and Herodotus’ Histories though, my depiction of the present-day culture I live in can never be complete, and my Paper Musum will inevitably offer only glimpses and fragments, leaving the viewer to unpack meaning from my chosen artifacts.  Avery homed in on separate themes for different phases of his Island work.  Perhaps for part 5 I need to narrow down my area of investigation; my selection of subjects could be chosen, for example, to highlight the rapid transition from traditional, rural culture to modern-day consumerism.
There is a selection of Avery’s work at https://grimmgallery.com/artists/charles-avery/work/
Herodotus The Histories, Penguin Books 1996


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