Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey’s engaging documentary, Eames: The Architect and the Painter, came out on DVD late last month. It tells the story of how the married couple, Charles and Ray Eames, famously revolutionized mid-twentieth century design. Originally, Charles studied architecture and Ray studied painting at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, before moving to Southern California and founding their acclaimed design studio at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice. Their motto of “the best for the most for the least” informed a multi-faceted career that ranged from furniture design to filmmaking to visual communication.
Cohn and Jersey primarily use archival footage and interviews with former employees of the Eames Office, architecture and design critics, and family members to present the couple’s life and work spanning nearly four decades. The film begins with the object that launched and sustained their career—the Eames Chair. It details the molded plywood chair’s first appearance at the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Furniture Competition through its continued production and sale at Herman Miller. Although Charles and his colleague Eero Saarinen designed a prototype in 1940, “the chair of the century” did not emerge until Charles and Ray’s experiments in building wooden splints and stretchers for soldiers in World War II.
The documentary also highlights the Eameses’ short films, exhibitions designed for museums and government agencies, and architectural works. In addition to their furniture, the couple remains known for their own home in Pacific Palisades, which was part of the Case Study House Program sponsored by Arts and Architecture Magazine. Their Case Study House #8 is a landmark of mid-century modern architecture that successfully stated “an idea rather than a fixed architectural pattern” and functioned as a comfortable living space. All in all, Eames: The Architect and the Painter is a delightful introduction to the extraordinary collaboration of Charles and Ray Eames, revealing how two very different artists created a singular form of American modernism.
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