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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Jim Flora (1914-1998)

Monday, June 19, 2006


James (Jim) Flora was one of the defining stylists of 1940s and '50s American commercial art. He concocted dozens of diabolic and hallucinatory record album covers for Columbia and RCA Victor jazz artists. His designs pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins, who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop-hued horns. Any vacant real estate was temporary, as Flora cluttered available space with geometric doo-dads floating willy-nilly like a kindergarten toy room gone anti-gravitational. He wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring up fragmented torsos, levitating instruments, and wobbly dimensional perspectives. His musician portraits were raucous and undignified, featuring piss-takes on such legends as Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Gene Krupa. Flora once said he "could not do likenesses"--so he conjured outlandish caricatures. Oh--and he was color-blind, which might explain why his subjects' faces were purple, green, or bedspread-patterned.

From 1960 on, Flora made a solid living illustrating for dozens of popular magazines and newspapers. He also authored and illustrated 17 children's books, earning a devoted young following. By that point his work had softened, losing its monstrous flair, which made him even more in demand (i.e., safer, more mainstream) as a commercial artist. It is Flora's edgy, early work that led Barbara Economon and me to undertake a series of books chronicling his first 20 years as a working artist. Vintage Flora album covers fetch beaucoup bucks on eBay. (The original art no longer exists.) His Pete Jolly Duo EP cover is one of the rarest of such artifacts. In fact, it has NEVER turned up on eBay. It was featured in our first book, The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora.

* This week Irwin Chusid, author/editor (with Barbara Economon) of The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora (Fantagraphics 2004) and the forthcoming Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora (February 2007), brings us a series of guest-posts showcasing recently seen and rarely seen 1950s commercial art by Flora (1914-1998). More of Flora's mischief can be viewed at JimFlora.com and at JimFloraArt.com. You can contact Irwin at info@JimFlora.com. The Mischievous Art is currently sold out, and will be reprinted with The Curiously Sinister Art. All images are © Jim Flora Art LLC, owned by the heirs of James Flora.

8 comments

  1. Great article! I never knew Jim was color blind. Nifty. Definitely explains a lot about his color schemes as you stated. I got the Flora bug in January 2004 when I was flipping through "Beatsville" There was a great spread on Flora in that book featuring his record covers. I immediately went onto eBay to search for as many covers as I could find. I also contacted Irwin Chusid immediately after finding his website, which I might add fueled my Flora Fire. It let me in on the fact that Flora was quite prolific in the world of illustration. I got pretty hungry and ate up as much research as I could which lead me to finding some pretty nifty inside magazine illustrations. I also found a few lots of CODA magazines on eBay which, aside from some great covers, have some great inside illustrations as well. Look for them in the next book.
    Oh yes, and by the way, I have purchased two Pete Jolly Duo covers so far on eBay, both fetched in the $100+ mark. Which is cheap considering I have seen(paid for) others reach into the $400 mark. A framed Mambo for Cats went for close to $400. You have to keep your eyes open if you want the good eBay deals, which I have found a plenty. My eyes are always open, that is the key.
    Chusid's first book was amazing and brought a great man's life into a perspective I didn't know existed. I cannot wait for the next one. I will be the first in the line-up at the first store they get delivered to.
    I could talk all night and day about Flora but I will save the rest for later. I will say that everyone should keep an eye on eBay, some nice original sketches and paintings have been surfacing. Everyone needs at least one original to crown the collection.

    Cheers!

    Jeffrey "dr.ashtray" Ferguson...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I stand corrected by the worthy Dr. Ashtray, who I don't doubt has purchased two copies of The Pete Jolly Duo on eBay. This escaped my attention. It certainly is one of the rarest Flora covers. The only copy I've seen is a proof sheet in the Flora archives. As for CODA illustrations, several rarities will be featured in the next few days. Rare to most readers -- but probably not to Dr. Ashtray!

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's only because I am a Freak about the search. I didn't realize it was Irwin that posted the original post. I was thinking it was the moderator, thus the reference of Chusid in the Third Person. For those that are interested in hearing me clarifying the butter per se. I look forward to seeing anything new in the rarity department. I might not have seen it, I am just a loyal lieutenant in this Armada, you are the Admiral. I just supply you with the spoils of my toils. Well off like (insert cliche)...

    Jeffrey...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous11:08 PM

    I'm assuming that CODA is an acronym that stands for___?
    Jim Flora was a great man - intelligent, witty and unique.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great article, I never new he was colour blind either, ceratinly lets you view his work with a better understanding.

    thanks

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous9:30 AM

    I don't know if it's too late to post a comment, but...

    I'd like to know more about those children's books Jim Flora illustrated.

    Do you have some titles? Are they still in print?

    Shari

    ReplyDelete
  7. Shari;

    I suggest you email Irwin Chusid, the author of this series of Flora posts and most likely the leading authority in the world on Flora at irwin@jimflora.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. What joy! This artist was my great discovery this week--fresh as a sea breeze!

    ReplyDelete

 

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