They gave shape to the American 20th century.
It began with a plywood chair. After successive failures at pushing materials to their limits, Charles and Ray Eames began a stint producing leg splints from their small home apartment during WWII. Using their very own gerry-rigged machine (made from a few heating coils and a bicycle pump) they eventually produced a successful new lightweight chair by moulding ply. They were not to know how successful they would become.
Under the motto “the best, for the most, from the least” they had created the icon of the modern postwar chair. Beautiful yet comfortable to use, adopting functional materials molded in two directions, Eames’ chairs would be able to negate the need for expensive upholstery. Today over 50 Charles and Ray Eames designs have remained in production, many synonymous with the modern design age.
The Eames’ creativity would spread in bursts to countless areas, from furniture, to film projects, exhibitions, architecture, and painting. Their story is retold in an inspiring new biopic, filmed with a matching graphic and musical creativity from documentary film-makers Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey.
As its trailer shows, EAMES: the architect and the painter, narrated by actor James Franco, explores the lives and work of an extraordinarily talented and eccentric couple.
Modern design was born from a marriage of Art and Industry. The Eames office was born from the marriage of Ray Kaiser, a painter who rarely painted, and Charles Eames, an architecture school drop-out who never got his license.
As the couple’s fame grew, their design studio Studio 901, Los Angeles, drew in four decades of talented artists and designers, working to the vision of their married bosses. TIME referred to one of their chair designs as “the greatest of the 20th century”.
“Never delegate understanding,” Charles Eames had said. Their practise consisted of solving design problems through measurement of the human body and by constant experiment.Much of the colour, artistry and aesthetic sensibility of their work has later been credited to Ray Eames. In the sexual politics of the 1950′s and ’60′s, it was unusual for a married couple to share in business decision making. Eames: the architect and the painter highlights the Eames’ modern example of the productive career-focussed team. Their very image together formed “perhaps their best work of design”, the couple featuring in shared appearances on television and in magazines. While much of the critical attention was focussed on Charles, he could also generously defer to his wife Ray, saying, ”Anything I can do, she can do better.” Working from an initial design by architect Eero Saarinen, Ray and Charles Eames designed their modernist home and studio. With material shortages during WWII, they had hit upon the idea of a modern architecture made entirely from pre-fabricated factory materials. Far from austere, the home became a famous architectural symbol of open plan freedom and postwar sophistication.
Today, Sam Grawe, Editor in Chief at Dwell Magazine, cannot recall a magazine issue not featuring Eames furniture.
I think you see that optimism of the American spirit in their designs, a blue-print for how we could live our lives… Every designer owes them some amount of debt.
In their personal story and the quality of their work through measurement and problem-solving, the film demonstrates Eames’ particular sensibilities of Modernism, and the drive that animated their projects.
Eames’ furniture and artworks are much copied, with originals fetching high prices at auction. Despite this deserved appreciation their legacy is perhaps best paid tribute by looking as they did, to the next stage of design, and with that same forward-thinking optimism ♦
EAMES: the architect and the painter, is available on DVD from Bread and Butter Films.