Monday, June 19, 2006
Jim Flora (1914-1998)
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.