By Liz Totton for TimeOut Abu Dhabi on March 10, 2015.
Local artwork makes a perfect souvenir of the capital. Liz Totton speaks to artist Emily Gordon about how she reveals her city in compelling layers.
Trying to pigeonhole the artwork of Emily Gordon to any particular style is challenging. When you walk into her villa/studio/gallery, it is as though you have been whirled into a shiny, colour vortex. Her vibrant artwork is everywhere, and we are immediately struck by how life imitates art or vice versa in the colourful world of the mixed media artist.
The artist is quick to tell us, ‘My artwork is all over my walls not out of vanity. My house serves dually as my studio and gallery, so it has to be up on the walls for me to keep track.’
Emily’s world is colourful and her subject matter is diverse. Her paintings often represent Abu Dhabi’s iconic buildings and skyline. She admits 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 of 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. Emily says, ‘I am a hoarder. 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 she has had a lot of time to collect unique objects as the city has grown up 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. I would find antique doors, wood from dhow boats and pottery lying by the side of the road or in junk heaps. I would take them home, clean them up and make them into art. I was born to salvage,’ she laughs.
Emily is a civil engineer by training, but when she came to Abu Dhabi, few women were in the workforce, so she began to dabble in art. Dabbling soon turned into a passion, which swiftly became her profession as people took notice of her pioneering style of layering paint, resin and discarded objects to create artwork so full of depth you feel drawn into them as though you were reading a story.
Emily developed this unique style of art, which progressively evolved through years of experimentation until she finally found the technique that she found the most satisfying.
Emily walks us through the process of ‘building’ each painting, which is quite unlike conventional methods – telling us that, ‘Each piece takes two to three months or more to complete due to the nature of the materials. I start by slinging a canvas very loose to allow the layers to build up. I then paint a colourful acrylic paint base layer, 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 canvas base. I do this so I can add in my objects and the gold and silver leaf.’ The culmination of this several-month layering endeavour produces remarkable visual depth which is both mesmerising and thrilling.
We ask Emily how she plans her work. She smiles and says, ‘I never know what I am doing when I start. 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 begins without a plan and then evolves into art 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. She also collaborates with other well-known local contemporary artists, such as Julia Ibbini, on a project known as ‘No White Walls’. You will often find their work gracing the walls of luxury hotel lobbies as part of their effort to colour the capital. Their next exhibit will be at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel on September 17 this year and we highly recommend you save the date.
If you would like to experience Emily’s bewitching artwork or you would like to purchase your very own keepsake reminiscent of your time in the capital, Emily’s work is evocative, approachable and spellbinding.