Most people are paid for their experience. Charles and Ray Eames were paid for their naiveté.
Eames: The Architect and The Painter recounts the story of the duo and the collaborative work of the Eames Office from the 1940s through the 1980s as they created for corporations, museums, and themselves. The Venice, California locale reflected their work: suffused with color, light, handmade trinkets, sketched designs, life captured as a collage.
Perhaps more enduring than some of their designs was the method by which the team created: later dubbed the “Eames design process,” an intentionally cultivated unfamiliarity toward the problem at hand was regarded as the only way to begin work. Operating by the conviction to “never delegate understanding,” teams would approach assignments Socratically by asking fundamental questions that manufacturers had lost sense of. They did their own research and testing, ceaselessly iterating to adapt products for those who actually used them, and for how they used them. By so doing, they kept a powerfully creative tension between intellectual and artistic discipline and childlike curiosity which would become the permeating characteristic in all of their work. The Eames Lounge Chair, and their films “Tops” and “The Powers of Ten” reveal a kind of rigorous whimsy, at once strange and satisfying.
This said, not all of their creations were keepers. For the 1975 American Revolution Bicentennial, the Eames Office created a traveling exhibit, “Franklin & Jefferson.” 7,000 square feet total and brimming with paragraphs of ten-point font among Americana memorabilia, the show was condemned for generating information overload before the term existed. And yet, one wonders – how would a child, who had just learned to read, who didn’t know the history of his country, take to the show?
The work of the Eames duo unsettles us from our unimaginative vision of ordinary things: furniture, film, toys. They were “Merlins of their curiosity,” as one interviewee puts it, transforming the everyday into shimmering possibilities.