Eames: The Architect and The Painter

A new film is out on the mid-century modern designers Charles and Ray Eames. The film is called Eames: The Architect and The Painter and I had the pleasure of seeing a screening while it was showing at the new Cass City Cinema in Detroit.

The Eames’ are probably best known for their chair designs, which launched the couple into design stardom and a long-term relationship with furniture manufacturer Herman Miller. However, their creative partnership also placed them firmly in the history of residential architecture for the Eames House, also known as Case Study House #8, and film making, most notably Powers of Ten. A central theme of their work was the idea of creating the best for the most for the least, a credo which often led them to engage with large companies as a means of getting their forward-thinking designs into the homes of the emerging middle class of post-war America.

Charles and Ray Eames chair designs for Herman Miller

One of the most insightful aspects of the new film, in my opinion, was learning about the individual strengths of Ray and Charles, and how they complemented each other as partners. Charles was an architecture school drop-out who collaborated with architect Eero Saarinen on chair and house designs that would serve as precursors to designs that Charles and Ray would later realize. Ray was a painter who trained under the abstract American artist Hans Hofmann. While neither Charles nor Ray practiced in their formal disciplines per se, their two different backgrounds accurately reflect the personality of their creative contributions to their work. Ray could be described as a pure artist, intuitively adept at considerations of form, color and composition. Charles seems to have been more of an intellectual visionary, finding ways to connect the visual arts with cold-war era innovations in science and technology. In part due to 1950’s gender disparities, Charles Eames was often the face of the office (a role he played very well) with the exact role of Ray sometimes unclear to clients and the media. However, I would argue that it was Ray’s contributions that made the work of the Eames office particularly appropriate for the celebration of everyday living. Just try to imagine the Eames body of work without its signature colors or patterns or provocative photographic compositions arranged by Ray. Refreshingly, Ray herself was living proof that modernists can also be pack-rats.

Ray's arrangement of wire chairs and bird.

I was disappointed to learn that the husband and wife relationship of Charles and Ray was not as ideal as I had imagined. However, the playfulness of their early relationship and their eccentric photographs together is still an image worth embracing. A sense of play was an essential part of their design curiosity and was reflected in their shared attitude towards life and work.

Ray and Charles Eames were husband and wife creatives with a playful design curiosity.

The film Eames: The Architect and the Painter is playing in cities across the U.S. in late November and early December 2011. Theater locations and showtimes as well as DVD ordering information can be found at http://firstrunfeatures.com/eames/.

This post was written by Katie.

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