In 2004 Charles Avery embarked on a project called The Islanders, which was conceived as a way to explore, consolidate and give direction to his art and ideas. The Islanders is a painstakingly detailed and diverse description of a fictional island in drawing and painting, sculpture and texts.
Untitled (View of the Port at Onomatopoeia) (2009–10) shows the full might of Avery’s imagination and drawing skills. Measuring over five metres wide, this drawing immerses the viewer in a scene of the bustling port of Onomatopoeia, the main town on the island. With the edges of the composition less detailed, attention is focused on the centre of the paper, which shows a diverse group of mysterious island inhabitants and their wares, alongside visitors who have arrived by boat.
Avery’s drawings are made entirely from his imagination. He improvises as he goes. Once a narrative emerges he develops it in several directions and uses different ways to tell the story.
The island’s natives are known as the If’en and have their own specific customs, gods and favourite foods. They live in a geometric landscape of vast plains and towns with cultural buildings and municipal parks.
It is important to consider the differences between Avery’s drawings and his sculptures. In essence, the drawings are narrative whilst the sculptures, such as hats, trees and animals, can be understood as items which have been sold as souvenirs to the island’s tourists. Therefore they have been removed from their original island context and are now situated in reality – creating a direct connection between the two. Avery extends this link through the inclusion of the protagonist, the Hunter, who has travelled to the island and documents what he experiences from an outsider’s perspective.
Avery prefers to exhibit a broad selection of works together so as to pose questions concerning the likes of mathematics, philosophy and time, whilst also offering the viewer a more in-depth experience of the island’s topology and cosmology. If The Islanders is ever completed, Avery hopes for it to be consolidated in a large, leather-bound encyclopaedic book, accessible to anyone interested in it.