Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review: "Eames: Architect & Painter"

I watched a wonderful documentary on two marvels in the earlier days of industrial design: Charles and Ray Eames. The limited knowledge I had of them before watching was this: they were a prolific team in the world of design, starting with the production of cheap, accessible and beautifully designed chairs that were a marriage of form and function. The Eames Team (forgive me) had their heyday starting in the 1930s (when a need for cheap furniture was prevalent), and carried their success on to all sorts of different projects like film, puppetry, architecture, and more.

Title: Eames: Architect & Painter
Director: Jason Cohn/Bill Jersey
Year: 2011

Surprisingly narrated (somewhat sparingly) by James Franco, the film takes an in-depth look at more than just their well-known and staggering works, but also at their personal life (to a tasteful level) and the social/economical setting of their success.

You may recognize this - the famous Eames lounge chair. So amazing, they named it after themselves.

Like many others, I mistakenly thought that Charles and Ray were brothers; when in fact they were a married couple. As was customary in those days, Ray was often left in Charles' shadow due to their gender roles and the attitude of the day. I found this to be extremely unfortunate as the documentary outlined the fact that the two perfectly complemented each other in their skills and specialties. As a classically trained fine artist, Ray was particularly gifted in selecting colour palettes, to a degree that Charles never could.

That said, their skills did anything but define them or place them in a box. Architect, designer, painter, filmmaker; these were not job descriptions or titles, but more of a toolbox with which they would creatively solve problems. This is the sort of thing that resonates most with me; not confining one's design practice to a specific honed skill but embracing change and need with time. Maybe yesterday I was an illustrator, today I am an animator, tomorrow I am a coder.

Even the way Charles and Ray designed their home in California was awe-inspiring. They chose to hang paintings on the ceiling, which I thought was truly ingenious. It makes them fresh, and invites you to deliberately look at them.

I also got the impression that they were early believers in the comfort and joy of a workspace that matches the worker's needs (rather than the other way around). They really took a person's shape into account when designing a chair. It must be as comfortable as it looks. This is akin to a straight-shooter that you can trust, which is a great thing to be as a designer.

In fact, huge corporations not only trusted, but relied on Charles and Ray to solve big problems for them. Polaroid entrusted them with making a camera that could be folded down flat, and IBM entrusted them to use film to explain relational distance between humans on Earth and outer space (something never before considered in its day).

We cannot truly understand the present (much less the future) without knowing where we came from. If you have any passion for design and a true renaissance in the middle of the 20th century, I urge you to watch this documentary.

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