Charles Avery

What’s the matter with Idealism?

Charles Avery (b. 1973, Oban, Scotland) is an explorer of the ’old-fashioned’ kind. For the last decade he has been hard at work on his project ’The Islanders’, using drawings, texts, video, objects and installations to create a portrait of a fictional island. Charles Avery – What’s the matter with Idealism? showcases the results of the last five years of his project.

The exhibition will transport visitors to Onomatopoeia; bustling port, main town and gateway to the island’s great wilderness: one time colonial outpost turned boomtown, turned depression-ravaged slum and regenerated city of culture and tourist destination. 

The island is a carefully considered fictional world described by Charles Avery in a multitude of different ways and nourished by philosophical reflection. The project is inspired by the ideas of real-life philosophers and artists such as William Blake and Joseph Beuys. For example, there is an ongoing debate in Onomatopoeia about the existence of a mythical being called the Noumenon, which – despite the best efforts of hunters and adventurers – nobody has ever glimpsed. The exhibition will include character studies, objects and scenes that give an insight to the culture, economy and beliefs of the Onomatopoeians.

His interest in literature, mathematics and philosophy is apparent throughout his work. For example, Avery has designed trees for his island, the forms of which are based on numerical patterns. The narrative drawings that form the basis of his oeuvre are skilfully rendered, highly imaginative, extremely detailed and full of humour. Over the years Avery has developed an ever-growing vocabulary of ideas, characters, architecture and techniques, enabling him to portray this ’other country’. With increasing conviction, coherence and attention to detail, he creates a compelling and immersive narrative that the viewer can identify with and inhabit.

The world Charles Avery depicts in ’The Islanders’ is not intended to be a utopia. The island is a fictive society, which, in various ways, holds up a mirror to our own. For example, ’The Eternal Dialectic’ (the given name of the endless philosophical argument that smolders throughout the bars and salons of the town) is a reflection on our own pursuit of knowledge, understanding of the concept of truth and our beliefs in its attainability.

By taking the island as the overarching theme of his artistic oeuvre, Avery also gives himself the freedom to work with a wide range of media and ideas.

Charles Avery – What’s the matter with idealism? is part of a series of exhibitions at the GEM featuring artists like Marcel Dzama and Marcel van Eeden, all of whom take drawing as their starting point for the creation of entire worlds. The concurrent exhibition of work by Jana Gunstheimer is likewise part of this series.

The first part of the ’Islanders project’ was exhibited in London and Edinburgh, and also at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam (2009). In 2012, Outset Nederland presented the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag with the installation ’Untitled (Miss Miss finally gives in by the tree where Aeaen sought to bamboozle the One-Armed Snake…)’. The work has quickly become a favourite with visitors. During the show at the GEM, it will be on display in the Discover the Modern exhibition at the adjacent Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.


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