What sparked the idea for the Highlife posters?
While working as a designer for Saatchi & Saatchi, I was researching how other countries launched their underground transport systems and I fell in love with vintage London Tube posters of the 1920s. I thought it would be fun to make similar ones for the Dubai Metro launch, but the plan did not materialise. So when I left, I decided to pursue the project independently for fun with social commentary in mind. Within two weeks of opening my online store, I was doing it full time.
Why did you choose vintage travel posters?
Creating travel posters of everyday situations allows me to represent them as foreign and idealised. I also liked the idea of using a dated simplicity to tell stories of a very modern city, which has none of these commercial ads in existence.
Have you branched out to styles from vintage travel and tourism adverts?
One of my favourites styles is what some now call retrofuturism — a trend inspired by the imagined future of pre-1960s America, with wild projections of enormous skyscrapers, flying cars, robots, floating glass houses, etc. I used this style for my Burj Khalifa poster as this building was exactly the sort of structure they were fantasising about.
Has anyone been offended by the tongue-in-cheek tone of the posters?
Honestly, very few. Most people have seen the funny side. Although, I did have a complaint about the couple in the Burj Al Arab poster having his arms around his wife — too much PDA. So I took his arms away from her.
What’s your creative process?
A lot of my posters ideas, such as ‘Salon Time’, ‘Cycle Abu Dhabi’ and ‘Ras al Khor Wildlife’, come from customers and fellow expats, so they can be enjoyed by all of the UAE’s wide range of expats and not just one race or culture. I usually make a list, then I’ll either go and photograph people and backdrops or find images online to get the exact scale and composition. Afterwards I scour old travel ads to shamelessly steal art direction for [what] suits it.
Will any of the other emirates receive the Highlife treatment?
I shall certainly be doing a Sharjah and a Ras Al Khaimah poster. I mainly work on places now that I’ve covered most of the obvious expat themes, and places sell well as they work as souvenirs. I have learnt interesting things about the UAE in the process, from volcanoes on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, to the competitive nature of Dubai mums doing the school run.
Some memorable responses to your work...
The best responses I’ve witnessed have been at my market stall, where people come up to look at the posters and laugh out loud. It’s a great feeling to create that reaction in people. The downside is that much of my work is hanging in people’s toilets.
What are some of the best-selling pieces?
‘Day Trippin’ and ‘Friday Brunch’ as they feature expats and [their lifestyle]. My personal favourites are ‘Ex-Pat Rage’ because I believe it’s a real syndrome that I have named and shamed. I will always love ‘Thank Goodness for Nanny’ as no one knows quite what to say about it, apart from actual nannies who have been known to find it amusing. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t sell very well.
Why does that poster leave people tongue-tied?
I suppose satire is good for exposing parts of society that could benefit from improving, thus inviting discussion and thought around a subject. In the case of my posters, I really wanted to document the privileges, the ‘Dubaisms’, we enjoy here, in the hope that it draws attention to a unique lifestyle usually reserved for the rich and famous.
How do you keep a balance between social commentary and playful humour?
I think the key is to keep [it] playful and not worry too much about the social commentary — this will come as a by-product if you are truthful to your observations of life.
Do stereotypes about cities or a lifestyle often hold a kernel of truth?
All stereotypes come about because of generalised beliefs that stemmed from ‘a’ truth — cities and lifestyles are not exempt. I don’t know the answer to this, all I can say is that the large number of expats who have bought my posters must have related to something in them and this viewpoint wasn’t just my own. I merely brought to light what myself and others I know collectively feel about the city.
Do you think Dubai is culturally rich?
I’m a creative person who thrives on culture — I wouldn’t have been here for 11 years if there was nothing going on. While it is still a young city, there are many talented people doing amazing things and there’s exciting music, art, literature, fashion, food, film and theatre happening all the time. Also, to those who don’t think so, I’d like to ask: ‘how much history and culture did London or Paris have when these cities were only 47 years old?’
Clare’s work can be seen at a permanent exhibition at the Alserkal Cultural Foundation Heritage House, Bur Dubai