Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Island of Imagination

“History is a fiction,
art history is fiction.
Maybe reality is the biggest fiction of all!"

Charles Avery

Since 1726, the satirical literary classic about journeys to imagined lands, Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift has never been out of print. From the tiny Lilliputians via the giants of Brobdingnag, the flying island of Laputa to the country of talking horses, the Houyhnhnms; it is a story that has enthralled readers for almost three centuries.

In a similar vein, for over the last decade, the Scottish artist Charles Avery has been creating his own imaginary land, The Island. Through drawing, sculpture and text he has created a space to investigate philosophy, literature and art.

As Avery told The Courtauld Institute of Art “The Island was originally meant to represent the world of all ideas… [Although] Gradually the purity of the Island has become obscured as I have sought to describe the texture of its landscape, its capital city, its people, and customs. There are naturally Utopian associations, but I have largely avoided portraying any political structure as of yet.” 

A stance that allows him to avoid the satirical comment inherent Swift’s masterpiece.

As he told the Scotsman newspaper “People have perceived some kind of satirical content to this, and there really isn't. I think maybe people have mistaken my ultra-earnestness for cynicism. I don't see it that way."

Using the Scottish island of Mull, where he grew up, as inspiration, Avery wants to keep The Island eccentric rather than other worldly.

"I don't want to it to look like sci-fi, or 'Hey, this is weird and wonderful!' I sometimes think, have the people who say these things actually looked? What is so weird about this place? There are a few weird animals, but nothing weirder than would turn up in Australia, they're just different, they're completely plausible. The Gods are a strange-looking bunch, but if you look at all the gods human beings have evoked I don't think they're particularly weirder," he has stated.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s senior curator, Philip Long, who was instrumental in getting Avery’s work shown at 2007 Venice Biennale has said about the work “"I think he's an extraordinary talent. His ability as a draughtsman and his ability to produce images of the world which he has invented is quite extraordinary and really quite dramatic. Like a lot of great artists, his work makes an immediate impression, potentially to a wide audience, but it also offers the possibility of more and more intellectual stimulus, the more you go into it."

To which Avery adds “The Island is not a parallel world, it's part of this world, therefore it is a fiction. I use the word 'fiction' very broadly.

The latest incarnation of The Island is on show at the Ingleby Gallery in the exhibition Charles Avery: The People and Things of Onomatopoeia until the 3rd of October.

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