August 21 is the day design icons Charles and Ray Eames passed away. Charles died on August 21, 1978 while Ray died ten years later on the same date. It’s a bittersweet date but, still, a cause to celebrate the lives of the two Angeleno transplants who joined fun and focus to design. They made furniture and homes and films that were inventive and beautiful. There was no one else quite like them, either. Eames: The Architect And The Painter is a documentary that came out last year and is a celebration of the two. It tells their very interesting story, detailing the work ethic, personal lives, and talent the couple shared.
Charles and Ray met in Michigan when they both worked together on a project for a design competition. Charles was married but they two fell in love and, by way of a love letter courtship, became a couple and ran away together to Los Angeles. Charles was an architecture school drop-out and was attempting to create new techniques in wood moulding that would be applied to chairs and furniture items. Ray was a trained artist and studied under Hans Hoffman. Together, the two had a unique approach to design that was very practical and a fusion of their education in architecture and art: things should be simple and beautiful–and fun. From their versatile Venice design compound they created many goods and were home to an incredibly alternative studio practice. They did a lot in their lifetime and they did a lot for Los Angeles. The couple were likely the first to make design mainstream and, as pointed out in the film, were progressive in many areas including gender equality in the workforce.
The film is quite informative even for the most knowledgeable of the couple. Did you know that they made films, particularly films with a mild American propaganda slant to them? Did you know that their studio practice came under fire for having multiple designers contributing to one product? Did you know that Ray was a big driving force in clarifying and tweaking ideas, lending her artist’s eye to creations? Did you know that the couple wrote really cute and nice looking letters to each other that discussed work, art, and love? Did you know that Charles eventually attempted to leave Ray for another women late in their lives? These are all facts that Eames: The Architect And The Painter share from the couple’s writings and interviews with former Eames designers, friends, and relatives.
The role of Los Angeles on the film is very remarkable, too. Their spirit–this genuine need to create new, happy goods–ties into how unencumbered one can be in our city. It also surprisingly hints at Hollywood as Charles very much appears to be an aspiring filmmaker. He does become a filmmaker and creates greatly influential films like Tocatta For Toy Trains and Powers Of Ten. We’ve all seen Eames’ products and related works of art and design–but seeing them actually speak and make these goods in their Venice office? It’s really something. Thank heavens for film and their love of film for capturing these artists at work.
Charles and Ray are great people more than anything else. Yes, they had their own personal dramatics in love but they have exactly what makes a great creative: vision, drive, spirit, personality, and an undying positivity. They had an insatiable desire to have fun and share fun with as many people as possible: this obviously played a role in their success. They prove that it is possible for something to be well designed, lighthearted, and make you happy. We should all live by this mindset, which may or may not be a response to Los Angeles.
Please note that James Franco narrates the film. While his gravel like voice has a minor role, we wanted to highlight his investment in the subject matter and surrounding fields.
The film is very quick (eightysomething minutes, we believe) and well made. It isn’t indulgent or excessive. It is incredibly honest, too. Their flaws and imperfections could have been veiled but are included in the film. If you have Netflix Instant Watch, you can see the film streaming now. If not, you can stream the film online by way of PBS: check it out here. Give the film a watch today and celebrate these two fantastic Angelenos.
Thank you Charles and Ray for being so wonderful: you are an inspiration to us all!