How artist Emily Gordon creates UAE souvenirs

We speak to the local artist about how she depicts the Emirates in compelling layers

Emily Gordon makes a perfect souvenir of the UAE. Liz Totton speaks to the local artist about how she depicts the Emirates in compelling layers – and creates her own work using the artist’s unique style.

Trying to pigeonhole the artwork of Abu Dhabi-based artist Emily Gordon is challenging. When you walk into her villa-studio-gallery, it’s as though you’ve been whirled into a shiny, colour vortex. Her vibrant pieces are everywhere, and we are immediately struck by how life imitates art, or vice versa, in the colourful world of the mixed media artist.

Emily is quick to say, ‘My artwork is all over my walls not out of vanity, since my house serves dually as my studio and gallery, so it has to be up on the walls for me to keep track.’ Her subject matter is diverse. Her paintings often represent iconic buildings in the UAE and its cities’ unique skylines. She says she has a ‘fascination for the sensual shapes, colours and designs of Arabic, Moorish and Byzantine architecture’, and communicates this passion through her work.

The myriad strange objects she grafts into almost every piece of art – everything from Etihad Airways badges to reflective vehicle licence plates to sparkling baubles – make for compelling viewing. ‘I’m a hoarder,’ she says. ‘Everywhere I go, I find something that I think needs to be immortalised in art.’

Emily has lived in Abu Dhabi for 25 years, so has had a lot of time to collect unique objects as the city has grown around her. She was initially inspired by hand-carved wooden doors that she would find discarded along the side of the road, as nationals became wealthier and renovated their homes. ‘Out with the old, in with the new, was all the rage and I was a direct beneficiary of that,’ she explains. ‘I would find antique doors, wood from dhow boats and pottery lying by the side of the road or in junk heaps. I’d take them home, clean them up and make them into art. I was born to salvage,’ she laughs.

A civil engineer by training, when Emily moved to Abu Dhabi, few women were in the workforce, so she began to dabble in art. This soon transformed into a passion, which swiftly became her profession as people began to take notice of her pioneering style – layering paint, resin and discarded objects to create works so full of depth that those viewing them would feel drawn to them as though reading a story. Her unique style evolved through years of experimentation until she finally settled a technique she found most satisfying.

Walking us through the process of ‘building’ each painting, which is quite unlike conventional methods – Emily tells us that ‘each piece takes two to three months or more to complete due to the nature of the materials used – we start our experimentation with her style. We paint a colourful acrylic paint base layer on our canvas and follow it with more layers of different colours and textures of acrylic paint, and interlace it with paraffin and resin until the painting rises above its base. We do this so we can add in our objects and the gold and silver leaf. The culmination of this layering endeavour – a several-month process for Emily – produces remarkable visual depth that is both mesmerising and thrilling.

So how does she plan her work? ‘I never know what I’m doing when I start,’ she says, smiling. ‘I just let the layers build until I see where they are going. This is where all my collected objects come to life.’ Her unique layered art then evolves into constructions as glorious as the iconic buildings she attempts to visually represent.

Emily’s paintings can be found in palaces, villas, offices, hotels, and airline VIP facilities. They are evocative, approachable and spellbinding, and make for interesting keepsakes, too.
For more information about Emily Gordon Art email or visit (02 443 3980).

Where to find quirky art souvenirs in Dubai

High Life Dubai
Dubai-based graphic designer Clare Napper describes her products as the must-have vintage art collection for extravagant expats on a budget. The colourful posters depict expat life in the emirate through retro graphics mixed with modern local jokes about city life. They are available in postcards, framed prints, canvas and limited-edition pieces.
Dhs95-575. To order visit

Robin Ruth
The souvenir shop sells everything from clothes such as ties, scarves, hats and caps, to passport covers, key rings, luggage tags and make-up bags, all with creative, funky designs.
From Dhs15 for key rings to Dhs169 for clothes. Available at various stores including Unit 141, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim,

Al Jaber Gallery
This store specialises in traditional Arabian souvenirs such as coffee pots, shisha pipes and leather stuffed camels, as well as modern keepsakes including mugs with icons of Dubai on them. Look out for the miniature Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa creations.
Prices vary. Various locations including Mall of the Emirates,
Al Barsha, (04 341 4103).

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