“That’s so Dubai,” someone will quip when you do something that is markedly unique to living in Dubai. It’s a saying we hear often all over our beautiful city. With a population that is over 88% expats, it’s only natural that the blend of cultures inhabiting one place will begin to create its own culture.
Enter Clare Napper, graphic artist, designer, and creator of ‘Highlife’ Vintage Posters. Her unique blend of humor, the UAE, expat woes, and an ability to artistically capture those Dubai idiosyncrasies — while still expressing a love for her adopted country — is what first drew us to her artwork. She has created a visual depiction of various places and faces around the UAE using a chic, retro format, usually containing at least a hint of that cheeky sense of humor that only those true ‘Jumeirah Janes’ can fully understand.
Whether you are looking for that perfect gift to give a friend as you send them off from our sandy city in the sun, or you yourself want a visual representation of the things that you love most about your home, Napper has a poster for you. From the hilarious and oh-so-true “Golf sucks in the summer” poster, complete with man passed out on the green and sweat spots truthfully placed, to the quirky posters depicting accurate portrayals (and hilarities) of the various neighborhoods around Dubai, her work is as niche as the city she lives in.
We sat down with the artist (well, virtually), to ask her more about her work, her time here in Dubai, and to get a first look at some of her newest artwork, revealed exclusively here on Savoir Flair.
Where are you from originally, and why did you move to Dubai? How long have you lived in Dubai?
I grew up just outside London, and later spent eight years in Bristol. Like the common expat story, I came to Dubai from London for ‘one year’ to work in an international ad agency and get some sun and tax-free earnings as a graphic designer. That was over 13 years ago! I am lucky to still feel connected to the UK, as I have the opportunity to head back to London each summer for a couple of months. As soon as it gets chilly there, I head back to warmer climates…
How long have you been drawing?
I actually don’t draw very much! I create all my illustrations on the computer. However, I always loved art at school, and although I headed into graphic design as a ‘safe’ career choice to bring home the bread and butter, I dream of a future being able to paint large canvases all day in a sunny studio. Until then, my design business will have to pay the bills.
How did you come up with the idea to draw vintage posters of Dubai and Dubai-isms?
I actually had the idea while working as a designer for Saatchi & Saatchi. We were launching the Metro, and I had been researching how other countries had launched their underground transport systems – that’s when I fell in love with the London Tube posters of the 1920s – I thought it would be fun to make vintage style posters for the Dubai Metro. Luckily, the RTA was not so keen on my idea, so when I left, I decided to pursue the project independently for fun, with social commentary in mind.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The ideas really just present themselves. I usually make a list of themes or places, which I then develop into poster ideas. A lot of my posters have been ideas from customers and fellow expats who I have met over the years at my market stall. ‘Salon Time’, ‘JLT Lakes’, ‘Friday Brunch’, ‘Cycle Abu Dhabi’, ‘Mirdif’ and ‘Ras al Khor Wildlife’ to name a few.
My first collection was inspired by these more humorous ‘Dubai-isms’ – these are things that my friends and I had noticed and were crying out to be highlighted in art form. These original posters are still my best-sellers five years on, and truly reflect our unique expat lifestyle. For example, my ‘No Key, No Problem!’ poster might show a scene about never locking the front door, but the subtext is that we live in one of the safest countries on the planet.
What’s your favorite area of Dubai?
I would probably have to say Al Fahidi district – I have a permanent exhibition in the Alserkal Cultural Foundation, and last year, I spent a month down there with my installation ‘A Life on the Fly’ for Sikka19 Art Fair. The winding pathways between the traditional villas and wind tunnels have such a lovely, peaceful vibe. I also love Jumeirah, where I live now: local fish market, the beach, the neighbor’s cockerels, calls to prayer from nearby mosques, the ease of everything, being able to cycle everywhere — I’ve become a proper Jumeirah Jane.
What’s your favorite thing about Dubai?
Apart from the amazing sunny lifestyle, I still believe young Dubai is a land of opportunity, especially for entrepreneurs. It’s not perfect — where is? — but this is a place where you can get a taste of the West, the East, and everything in between — in one big, happy, safe city. I’ve been privileged to get to know and enjoy so many different cultures here.
What’s next on the plate for you?
2020 is a busy year for me – I am finishing the last posters of my Highlife series, launching a new tourist souvenir range, developing some exclusive mini collections for some well-loved brands, and I recently designed four posters for EXPO 2020, which should also be out in the near future. Lockdown has been great for my productivity.
Do you have any sneak peeks you’d be willing to show us?
Yes. I do! My latest poster, ‘Home Fleet Home’, has been quite emotional for me as I know many who are leaving due to losing their jobs this year. I think many of us have a relationship with Emirates airlines, taking us back and forth between our home country and our home here — I hope that it captures some of the sentiment that comes with so many expats leaving after five, 10, or 20 years here.
Discover more of the Highlife Collection by visiting Napper’s website here.