Edinburgh’s Island: A wacky world Tolkien would love

If Tolkien had been a contemporary artist, he might have imagined a world like this one at the Edinburgh Art Festival: an incredibly detailed, surreal island by artist Charles Avery.

Since its launch in 2004, the Edinburgh Art Festival has become the UK’s largest annual festival of visual art – and yet another draw to a city already thrumming with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival each August. This year, as art critic Alastair Sooke discovers, the Art Festival starts as soon as you step off the train at Waverley Station: near Platform Two, internationally-renowned Scottish artist Charles Avery has planted a tree.

The colourful metal-and-plastic abstraction is part of a painstakingly detailed project that Avery has worked on for more than a decade, The Islanders, which includes paintings, sculptures and even a book. Although the island and its decaying port town, Onomatopoeia, is completely imaginary, it was inspired by Mull, the island where Avery was born. As a result, some of its aspects may feel familiar – from the well-heeled tourists to the teenagers sharing cigarettes.

But from its cuisine (the locals have a penchant for pickled eggs) to its animals (like “ridables”, a kind of llama-hound mix), gods to topography, every aspect is completely imagined by the artist. More of his work exploring the island through drawings, sculptures and even furniture is on display at the Ingleby Gallery until 3 October.

“It’ll occupy me for the rest of my life,” Avery tells Sooke. “I can’t do anything else.”

Avery talks about the project’s literary side, why the island sometimes feels claustrophobic and what he thinks is the greatest feeling there is.

This story is a part of BBC Britain – a new series focused on exploring this extraordinary island, one story at a time. Readers outside of the UK can see every BBC Britain story by heading to the Britain homepage; you also can see our latest stories by following us on Facebook and Twitter.