The World of Charles and Ray Eames
A foldable poster acts as a cover sleeve. A range of paper textures and the simple juxtaposition of image and text create a narrative flow in The World of Charles and Ray Eames. This is the catalogue to accompany the exhibition of the same name held at London’s Barbican (until 14 February 2016), and much like the show, the book explores the various facets of this inspiring design duo.
As you can imagine, the Spinach team is fascinated by design, be it physical, digital or print. And we are always looking out for original ideas, for inspired thinking. So it is really refreshing for us to come across a book like this, with a subject concerned with mid-century design yet refraining from resorting to 1960s pastiche. Or indeed allowing (like so many books on design do) some clever graphic treatment to shadow the content.
Book design has to respect the content, dance with it almost, help tell the story, enhance our experience as readers. And this was certainly achieved here. With our most recent book The Life Negroni we also aimed at accomplishing a similar mission by refraining from the typical cocktail book design, to be more adventurous, treat the subject with the respect and visual originality it deserves.
Here too the book design consciously takes from the working of its subject, Charles and Ray Eames. Cropping, framing, design and presentation of image were central to the work of this husband and wife team. For the book, art director and graphic designer John Morgan has worked towards a very present grid, one that could also handle such a large body of work on 300-plus pages.
Today Charles and Ray Eames are mostly associated with their furniture design, their hugely iconic chairs that are copied the world over. Their work, however, expands hugely beyond bendy wood and steel – it is their thinking, their ideology that has influenced generations of creatives and we suspect will continue to do so.
This is a thinking that comes specifically from their geographical location. The Eameses are intimately connected with a very unique mid-century Californian modernism. It would be impossible to consider one without the other. The sunny state embodied the New World then – the west coast became synonymous with a new kind of modernity after the war.
This particular interpretation of the movement had at its centre a sunnier thinking, an optimism naturally lacking in Europe at the aftermath of two major world wars. California also benefited hugely from its geographical distance from Old World modernism, and perhaps the climate and vast beautiful coastline helped shape a very different mind-set.
Californian modernism rejected some of the more rigid dogmas whilst maintaining the core values of the movement, and arguably directing it towards modern life so that ideologies like social improvement married new sensibilities of popular culture. So film, music, magazines, mass-produced products joined the more ‘high culture’ disciplines like art, architecture and design as tools for shaping our lives. Californian modernism embraced free thinking, liberalism, it had a direct connection with lifestyle. It took design out of the strict codes set by the European avant-garde and set it free. It was so very modern.
And Charles and Ray truly embodied Californian modernism. Just browse through photograph after photograph of this handsome and healthy couple working alongside their equally stylish friends in the Eames Studio. We see them experimenting with new material, finding new solutions for sustainable products, creating movies, stills and architectural models for living. Their energy is intoxicating, almost bouncing off the pages of this book. It is the kind of thinking that inspires our team at Spinach.
Charles and Ray Eames took the principles of early modernism, the expressive visions of early Bauhaus, transported it to sunny California and moved it forward to be relevant in the new age. And what is most fascinating is just how relevant their work remains today. We hope to continue their discourse.
The World of Charles and Ray Eames by Thames & Hudson is edited by Catherine Ince and Lotte Johnson for The Barbican.