Charles Avery: charting an imagined world

Charles Avery: charting an imagined world

Celebrating Deutsche Bank’s 20 years as Global Lead Partner of Frieze art fairs with a series of 20 articles on 20 featured artists.

In 2004, Charles Avery began what was to become a lifelong project, "The Islanders", a meticulous, penetrating examination of the structure and possibilities of another place. In drawings, texts, and objects, Avery describes the inhabitants, architecture, philosophies, customs, and idiosyncrasies of this imaginary territory.


Charles Avery's nameless island is reminiscent of the Scottish Hebrides, but also of East London. Yet it is not really an island at all, but part of a self-contained universe, "in the midst of an archipelago of innumerable components". It's populated by humans, fallen gods, and an undefined species called If'fen.


The capital of his island is the port-town of Onomatopoeia: originally a starting point for pioneers and travellers, then a bustling boomtown, then a citadel, then a depression-ravaged slum, and finally a renewed cultural city. Avery documents the many eras it has lived through with architecture, sculptures, writings and myths. There is something nightmarish about the scenes of everyday urban life that he depicts in his ongoing work. Creepy plants, fantastic monstrous creatures, terrible taxidermy and strange machines are commonplace in shops, museums and public spaces. 


Social life follows strange rules: squares are forbidden. The islanders avoid the number four and use a different counting system. They don't like rectangles or right angles. They do not drink from glasses, but from curved, tubular vessels that look like a cross between diving birds with long beaks and abstract sculptures. At the same time, there are echoes of post-war London, the culture of the 1970s and 1980s in which the artist grew up. Avery's eclectic worlds were ahead of their time precisely because they avoided spectacle. Their hybrid combination of different eras, cultures, religions, and systems of thought with the everyday world is reminiscent of current science fiction and fantasy series. 


Charles Avery divides his work into two areas: atomic and mystical. His "atomic" works are abstract and geometric, while his "mystical" works consist of figurative pencil drawings. He exhibits both areas together to explore questions of metaphysics, mathematics, and philosophy. He is particularly interested in the work of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, from whom he took the idea of an atomistic and mystical approach to art.


About this article series

This article forms part of a special series celebrating Deutsche Bank’s 20 years as Global Lead Partner of Frieze art fairs, taking a closer look at one of 20 artists we have collaborated with and whose work features in the Deutsche Bank Collection.

Deutsche Bank's commitment to art and culture

Deutsche Bank is the Global Lead Partner for Frieze art fairs, with 2023 marking the 20th year of the partnership. As part of its Art & Culture commitment, Deutsche Bank has supported and collected the work of cutting-edge, international artists for more than 40 years. A global leader in corporate art programmes, the bank also runs an Artist of the Year programme, as well as its own cultural centre in Berlin, the PalaisPopulaire. All initiatives are based on the strong belief that engagement with art has a positive impact, not only on clients and staff but also on the communities in which the bank operates. Thus further collaborations such as the Deutsche Bank Frieze Los Angeles Film Award in the United States, The Art of Conversation in Italy, the Frieze x Deutsche Bank Emerging Curators Fellowship in the United Kingdom, and the digital platform Art:LIVE, create access to contemporary art for people all around the world. Discover more here.


Please find more information on Deutsche Bank’s art programme at and follow us on Instagram @deutschebankart


Main image: Charles Avery Charles Avery Portrait 2015 (detail) © Berta De La Rosa


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