anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Posts Tagged ‘Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray

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“To create, one must first question everything.”

-Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

I didn’t know of designer and architect Eileen Gray until I saw a retrospective of her work at Centre Pompidou in Paris a few years ago, and I fell in love with her pieces and was inspired by her story.

Born in Ireland, Gray moved to Paris in 1902. There, she studied lacquerwork, designed furniture (her designs are still produced today) and became a major figure of the French Art Deco movement. “She dared to do things that no one did at that time,” Cloé Pitiot, curator of of the exhibition told the Wall Street Journal

It’s interesting to look at her work with that perspective, understanding that her furniture and designs were revolutionary at the time that she made them. And while such designs feel very modern today, think of how bold it was to create them in her day.

In 1929 when she was 51, Gray completed her first architectural work, the E.1027 house. The house is now considered a masterwork of modernist architecture, her furniture designs within it carrying equal importance.

The organisation of the house as a whole is then based on her studies of wind and sun, and on its position on a steep slope descending to the sea. The building is mostly white outside, its interior modulated with planes of slight pink or eau-de-nil, or a nocturnal blue or black. These colours are maritime, but subtly so, such as you might see in deep water, inside a seashell or after sunset. There is an acute awareness of surfaces, both inside and out, and their degrees of shine or roughness. On the back wall of the main living space, playfulness being part of her armoury, she placed a large nautical chart. This, she said, “evokes distant voyages and gives rise to reverie”. The Guardian

Of course, I was horrified when I learned how renowned architect Le Corbusier had defaced the interior of the house with erotic murals, stark contradictions to Gray’s subtle style. The reason for such destruction? Le Corbusier was reportedly shocked that such a beautiful building could have been designed by a woman, saying, “I admit the mural is not to enhance the wall, but on the contrary, a means to violently destroy [it].”

…one of his destructive paintings is applied directly to the hallway screen in E.1027. By his symbolic removal of Gray’s obstructions he rendered her complex house transparent, and with the erotic scenes he painted, he supplied the imagined objects of his desire.

Le Corbusier’s fascination did not stop here: he also built a little shack, his ‘cabanon’, perched like a voyeur’s eyrie above the villa. He spent the rest of his summers here, swimming every day below the cliffs, and that is where he died in 1965, overlooked by the house that had so obsessed him. Architectural Review

Le Corbusier of course remains in the architectural vernacular, known to even those outside his domain.

But Gray, like so many other women artists, slid into the shadows. Self-taught and working in a male dominated field didn’t make it easy within her profession; she existed in a domain where success meant being a chest-beating male. Gray herself admitted to the drawbacks of her own quiet nature: “I was not a pusher and maybe that’s the reason I did not get to the place I should have had.”

Fortunately, with the restoration of E.1027, and a renewed interest in her story, her work and spirit will not be lost. As Cathy Giangrande, development lead for Cap Moderne, the nonprofit association behind the restored E.1027, told Dezeen, “Certainly she deserves to be celebrated as one of the great pioneers of her time…”

To follow Gray’s line of thinking, to create we must question everything. We must question our own perceptions, our own assumptions. We must question the world as we know it, the status quo.

And when we question, we become empowered to challenge. After all, isn’t that what creating is all about?

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

January 11, 2019 at 05:00