Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Biography

Eileen Gray was born Kathleen Eileen Moray in 1879 in Southeastern Ireland to a distinguished family. She grew up in a family home called Brownswood which she loved dearly. Never raised as a protected child, Eileen was quiet, shy, and introverted, but she had a bold personality and was not to be limited by conventions. She always strove to do the best she could in school and in the work she did of her own initiatives. After her brother and father died in the early 1900s, Eileen traveled to Switzerland to send her much loved family members off. To pursue her love of freedom, she decided to go to art school in London.

In London  Eileen attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London, a part of the University of London. Here, Eileen learned to draw and to paint but she quickly found herself loosing interest in drawing. She felt herself to not be proficient in it and decided to pursue the decorative arts instead. After a visit to Paris with her mother in 1900, Eileen felt immediately drawn to the city and in 1907 she decided to move there permanently. She rented a large apartment, 21 rue Bonaparte, which she purchased 3 years later and where she remained for the next 70 years. Eileen was obstinate and disliked the mainstream culture, only taking interest in new inventions in art and technology, but did not take any interest on anything labelled 'avant-garde'. She rejected the belief that the machine would transform life, but rather liked to believe that there is a need for emotion in all creations.

After coming across a lacquer repair shop in Paris, Eileen took to the technique of creating lacquered panels and met a contact of the shop owner, Seizo Sugawara, whom she worked with and moved back to London with when World War I broke out. After the war, they moved back and Eileen was commissioned to furnish and create lacquer panels for an apartment. She studied with him for four years. Soon, she opened a shop and started to sell her panels.

In 1921, Eileen Gray met Jean Badovici. Under his influence, she began to resent her earlier, more luxurious work, and started to lean towards more simplistic, modern forms. Jean Badovici was one of the most influential figures in Eileen's life in terms of architecture. In 1924, Eileen was taught by Adrienne Gorska to draft, and just a year later, Jean Badovici asked Eileen to build him a little refuge in the South of France. 

Hence, the construction of E.1027 began in 1926. Eileen studied the house as a function for those who lived in it. She wanted E.1027 to embrace its context, instead of changing the landscape. She studied light, wind, and the precise passage of the sun before deciding on an orientation that best suited its purpose. Its orientation enabled the cooling east wind to be captured by the roof staircase. Eileen remained on site throughout the whole process, though Badovici was rarely there. She worked with him on the structure of the building. During the building process, Eileen lived in solitary existence and saw only the workers. There was no road to the site, so all the materials needed to be brought by wheelbarrow.

Eileen's belief that the house should be very livable meant that she designed all the rooms orientated away from each other. Each had its own space, creating a sort of privacy and intimacy. Each detail of the house was scrutinized over, customized to best suit one who was living in it. Each window was tailored and changed to suit the orientation of the house and the function of the room. The furniture in it was designed to be movable and transformable. Eileen's first house, E.1027, was finished in 1929, though there were paper houses that she made in her study of architecture before that.

In the early 1930s, Eileen built Tempe à Pailla for herself off the coast at Castellar. The small house meant that Eileen had to rise to the challenge of living in such a compact space. She designed furniture that would be multifuncional.

In the beginning of World War II, Eileen stayed in Tempe à Pailla, though she and most foreigners were forced to move away from the sea. At the end of the war, Tempe à Pailla was looted, and a flat in which she kept her possessions was blown up. Eileen reached a low point in her life.

Eileen moved back to Paris, a place that she always loved, and lead a quiet life in her apartment on 21 rue Bonaparte. She preoccupied herself with drawing up plans for towns, and some very concrete ideas that Badovici set upon her. At the end of 1946, after Eileen had designed a large scale theatre, she was asked to design furniture and equipment for a worker's flat. She refused, saying it was because a lack of material, but in reality, it was because her eyesight had started to give. Through her stubborn and focused personality, Eileen worked through times when her fingers would numb and would go on until her eyesight blurred out at the end of the day. Rue Bonaparte became her permanent residence.

During the last years of her life, Eileen took up painting again, though she was not completely satisfied with her results. She was once again recognized after an article that was published to appreciate her career. Eileen was suddenly documented again and she received request after request for interviews. Eileen became frail in her nineties, though her stubborn personality never changed. On Sunday, October 31, 1976, Eileen gray passed away. Her death was announced on the radio, and it was the first time her name was said on the radio.

There is a road which leads upward and there is a road which leads downward. Both are one and the same. 
-Eileen Gray.




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