Home fleet home: Dubai illustrator's retro-style posters pay homage to Emirates and Etihad

Clare Napper has created a new trio of travel-related posters in her trademark vintage style

Clare Napper has earned a spot on hundreds, if not thousands, of walls by capturing the joys and foibles of life in the UAE.

But the British-born artist’s latest trio of vintage-style creations were completed with a heavy heart, as the economic fallout from Covid-19 began uprooting lives, including those of people she knew.

Her latest additions – featuring Dubai International Airport and Emirates and Etihad planes – were galvanised by the effects of the global pandemic on staff at the nation's best-known airlines.

Amid postponed flights and shelved holidays, the retro-styled posters tap into our newly minted nostalgia for a modern-day golden age of air travel.

Napper says people were requesting travel-related posters, but creating them became more pressing in the wake of the pandemic.

"My business had ground to a halt – my production partners are based in a mall, which was shut – so I started doing commissions where you could personally feature in your own poster," says Napper, who releases work under the brand name Highlife. "One was for a lovely Etihad flight attendant who wanted a surprise for one of her crew friends who had been made redundant."

The result, based on photographs, showed seven fun-loving female crew colleagues in front of a jet. “All of their futures were uncertain, so they wanted a memoir of their time together,” says Napper, who moved to Dubai 13 years ago to work as a graphic artist for an international advertising agency.

“I got an insight into their lives and it really touched me how many crew must have been affected like this – you are settled, enjoying this great lifestyle, then suddenly within a few months something unexpected changes the course of your life.

“It was this commission that made me realise I should do my airline posters now, as they could work as souvenirs for crew, in the way my other posters work for expats.”

Home Fleet Home, which came out on September 1, is a cheery portrait featuring a Boeing 777 300-ER on the tarmac at Dubai International Airport, complete with glamorous crew.

Comments and requests, notably from airline staff, led to a second poster featuring one of Emirates' famed A380 superjumbos in flight. An Etihad-inspired poster was unveiled on Wednesday. 

Whereas some of Napper’s previous works are cast with observational humour – not least takes on hedonistic pursuits such as ladies’ nights and Friday brunch – these newest creations were a heartfelt reaction to the pandemic.

"Highlife so far has been a tongue-in-cheek celebration of privileged, extraordinary lives in the sun," says the artist, who lives in Jumeirah.

“But because my posters are purchased mainly as leaving gifts and souvenirs, I’ve seen from my increase in sales and last-minute goodbye-present requests that more people than ever are heading home this year.”

Napper, 41, says she took stylistic inspiration from classic airline posters from the past century, advertising brands such as KLM, Aer Lingus and defunct US carrier Pan Am.

Because my posters are purchased mainly as leaving gifts and souvenirs, I've seen from my increase in sales and last-minute goodbye-present requests that more people than ever are heading home this year.

The details, however, were driven largely by grounded UAE planes. "I have flown Emirates for the past 13 years and – like so many – have a personal relationship with the airline," Napper says.

“When I first wrote the tagline, ‘Home Fleet Home’, and the poster came together, I have to admit … I actually became a bit teary.”

Napper has also previously created vibrant depictions of famed Dubai landmarks such as Burj Khalifa, Deira Clock Tower and Burj Al Arab, besides her observational takes on residents' lifestyle choices such as golf in the summer heat and rite-of-passage visits to Satwa restaurant Ravi's.

Other posters celebrate locales such as Dubai Marina, The Greens, Ras Al Khor, Al Fahidi and Palm Jumeirah – all drawing on the classic tourist-poster styles made famous by the likes of Parisian illustrator Roger Broders and British artist Dorothy Newsome. Unlike them, though, Napper uses modern computer techniques to create her illustrations.

“One of the reasons I chose vintage travel posters to depict a modern-day UAE is because, as a young country, there’s still a sense of excitement, newness and opportunity – similar to the mood surrounding the mainstream commencement of international travel back in the 1920s and 1930s.

“Emirates is part of this UAE success story – as one of the most prolific airlines in the world, the impressive fleet evokes a pride similarly felt with airlines back then; it is having its own ‘golden era’ now.

“I am glad I could capture this for anyone who has worked at the airline and some of the sentiment that comes with so many expats leaving.”

Napper says nostalgia wasn't something she intended as she's confident Covid-19 won't affect international travel permanently. She's glad, though, that her aviation additions have found approval among airline workers.

“So far only airline staff have bought these posters, which makes me happy I have been able to connect and do something for them,” says Napper, who offers them a 20 per cent discount.

The constraints of the global pandemic, it seems, have spawned creative bursts from many artists, Napper among them, who says more time spent at home is "great for productivity".

She also used the time to complete other projects, including her first Sharjah-dedicated scene, one of Abu Dhabi's Etihad Towers and posters capturing desert safaris and camping, cycling in Al Qudra, Dubai Silicon Oasis and the Dubai World Cup.

"As much as I am an artist," Napper says, "over the past five years my purpose here has evolved to create meaningful souvenirs to be hung in homes … fond memoirs of time spent in the UAE."

Clare Napper’s posters cost fromh85 and are available at www.highlife-dubai.com