Game Changer Duo: The world of Charles and Ray Eames

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Produced within tens of years, the oeuvres of Charles and Ray Eames enjoy global praise. Best known for their iconic chairs, Charles and Ray Eames worked in different media fields, ranging from architecture, furniture and textile design, graphic design, painting, and filmmaking. They hold life and art intricately linked and aim to represent the beauty of everyday objects in their artworks. Listed among the most excellent and influential designers of the 20th century, they exerted an immense influence on their peers and later generations. Their art exhibits have evolved into media spectacles, such as the recent exhibition at the Vitra Museum.

Charles and Ray Eames’s prominence is essentially due to their status as a creative duo, which they had appeared to exemplify in an iconic way. It ranges from their continuous focus on their own curious and explorer personas to their captivating collages to an enthralling aesthetic that reaches somewhere between performative staging and transformative design and a search for “the best for the most for the least.”

Complementary rather than competing, the couple succeeded in carving out their career as lovers and artists.
Complementary rather than competing, the couple succeeded in carving out their career as lovers and artists.

Directed by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey and narrated by James Franco, Eames: The Architect and the Painter is a fascinating documentary filming Eames’s artistic and romantic partnership. Proceeding in an engaging order created through photographs, clips, stills, love letters, interviews, and narration, the film examines the Eames’ love and professional lives in a chronological yet unique flux. The prologue starts with the luxurious Eames Chair and a very short clip of Charles Eames. The dynamic arrangement of sections from interviews, shots of artworks of Eames, and video clips of the couple have enough capability to capture the attention of the spectator. In the documentary, layers are added to serve to invest the viewer’s perception of Charles and Ray’s designs and artworks.

The documentary’s opening scene welcomes a close look into the Eames Studio. The narration of the design team about graphics, models, animation stands, and photographs spread out on tables, woodshops, saltwater tanks, Eames chairs with drawings on them, and much more evoke one’s imagination about the studio. The studio is told to be an ever-changing, extraordinary place where creativity and dynamism converge. Franco quotes Charles and follows, “Furniture, toys, architecture, exhibitions, photography, and film all are connected in the wild, whimsical world of the Eames Office.” At the same time, the documentary screen puts an engaging display of respectively connecting puzzle cards having related pictures of Eames. It makes the transition technique of the narration contributing and appealingly creative.

Charles Eames with a chair he designed and decorated. 1950.
Charles Eames with a chair he designed and decorated, 1950.

“Eventually, everything connects.”

Charles Eames

The plotline moves to the narration of the beginning of Charles’ career when Franco says, “… and all began with a chair.” Revolutionized the essence and design of mass-produced chairs, Charles, once an unknown young architect without a degree, won a competition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940 with his friend Eero Saarinen. Subsequently, in the documentary, there is a smooth transition from chair design to the start of the love of Charles and Ray.

In the search for the best chair design, with experiments, they started the era of the Eames design process, a process of learning by doing. Ideas, more ideas, discarded ideas, models, and models that do not work; together, they built the way for Eames to succeed in the postwar era. Charles and Ray gave suburban residents in the new generation what they desired when it concerned décor. They had a direct and concise mission declaration: “We want to make the best for the most for the least.” Charles Eames occupied himself with the needs of his visitors, both with the role of a designer and a host. Above all, their furniture was well-constructed and attractive.

Ray and Charles Eames Working on a Conceptual Model for the Exhibition Mathematica, 1960, photograph. Image from Eames Office.
Ray and Charles Working on a Conceptual Model for the Exhibition Mathematica, 1960, © Image from Eames Office

Consequently, America’s newly wealthy middle class adopted it as their home style. The couple established the Eames Office in Venice, Los Angeles, in 1947. It set precedents for every design field for forty years. Likewise, the Bauhaus artist Charles Eames inextricably intertwined arts and crafts and said, “We consider ourselves to be craftsmen.” Ray Eames intertwined aesthetics and functionality, saying, “What works good is better than what looks good because what works good lasts.”

Charles and Ray made this whole new concept mainstream. Besides the artists and intellectuals, many young executives found their designs aesthetically appealing and reachable. Ray polished the harsh edges and gave modernist design a broad appeal, whereas Charles presented modernism to the Midwest.

The outcome was thought to be a collaborative effort by the studio, yet Charles was placed in the seat of success. Therefore, a pretty important part of the documentary is about the credit issues. Ray Eames stated, “I never gave up painting; I just changed my palette,” indicating that she did not think her final career deviated much from her previous endeavors. Ray was an active collaborator on all of their innovations, and Charles remained eager to recognize her vital commitment. He stated, “Ray can do better than me at anything.”

Nevertheless, the external world has not acknowledged her abilities and efforts. Ray remained in the gloom while Charles was in the spotlight. This was spearheaded by Charles’s charismatic charm and lethal combination of his attributions. The visitors, artists, and scientists were eager to talk to Charles. Like the most talented women who were frequently written down as nothing more than housewives or secretaries of their husbands, Ray was often overlooked or written off as her husband’s assistant.

Charles Eames in the chair he designed with Ray
Charles Eames in the chair he designed with Ray.

By delving into the background of Ray’s artistic education and interviews about her capabilities, it is tried to give Ray the spotlights she had deserved decades ago. She made experimental collages with the interior objects of their house. To the inexperienced eye, Ray’s contribution was much more muted and hardly noticeable.

Charles had a mind full of grandiose ideas, and she was keen on detail. She added an organic touch to Charles’ enormous endeavors by sprinkling them. She had a wonderful sense of style and an affinity with color. Her humorous involvement would have given his creations a more rigorous appearance. The house they constructed together in the Pacific area, which has since been referred to as The Eames House, resulted from their complementing abilities. Constructed from glass and steel, the façade and the shape are reminiscent of Charles’ style. The interior, on the other hand, is reminiscent of Ray’s style, containing lots of intriguing antiques and pictures hanging from the ceiling.

The Eames House Living Room
The Eames House Living Room. © Antonia Mulas

Then, their house and the design history of Eames House come to the screen. “It is the archetypal modern house,” says Franco, and the spectator is invited into the house. A combination of things, touches of Ray, playful re-arrangements, and re-use of architectural elements are on display.

On the other hand, the documentary achieves to continue to be a dynamic and creative screenplay that exhibits sections from Charles and Ray’s videos, speeches, films, and animations, capturing one’s eyes and playful photographs along with the storytelling following the timeline. Interviews, dramatic changes in music, and silent breaks are utilized to empower and intrigue the narration. Underlining the charismatic charm of Charles Eames several times but not Ray’s seems a technique for the plot transition that focuses on the end of his love for Ray. His love affair with Judith Wechsler is given a place through her own narration. Following the last era of Charles and Ray and their collaboration until the death of Charles, the documentary stays loyal to its storytelling techniques.

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