James (Jim) Flora is best-known for his wild jazz and classical album covers for Columbia Records (late 1940s) and RCA Victor (1950s). He authored and illustrated 17 popular children’s books and flourished for decades as a busy magazine illustrator. Few realize, however, that Flora (1914-1998) was also a prolific fine artist with a devilish sense of humor and a flair for juxtaposing playfulness, absurdity and violence.
Cute — and deadly.
Flora’s album covers pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop-hued horns. Yet this childlike exuberance was subverted by a tinge of the diabolic. Flora wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring flying musicians, levitating instruments, and wobbly dimensional perspectives.
Taking liberties with human anatomy, he drew bonded bodies and misshapen heads, while inking ghoulish skin tints and grafting mutant appendages. He was not averse to pigmenting jazz legends Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa like bedspread patterns. On some Flora figures, three legs and five arms were standard equipment, with spare eyeballs optional. His rarely seen fine artworks reflect the same comic yet disturbingqualities. “He was a monster,” said artist and Floraphile JD King. So were many of his creations.
Flora was born in the small Ohio village of Bellefontaine, and studied for four years at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1936-1939), where he met his future wife, artist Jane Sinnicksen. In 1942 he moved to Connecticut after taking a job in the Columbia Records Art Department, where he served as Art Director from 1943–1945. After five additional years in the Columbia executive suites, he quit the company and moved with his wife and two young children to Mexico. Jim and Jane spent 15 months in Taxco as footloose expatriate artists, before returning to their home on Bell Island, Rowayton, Connecticut in 1951.
Jim immediately embarked on what became a lengthy and successful career as a freelance commercial artist, while he and Jane added three more children to their family. In 1955, Jim wrote and illustrated The Fabulous Firework Family, the first of his 17 popular children’s books. His final title for young readers was published in 1982, after which Flora retired from commercial work.
JimFlora.com exhibits samples of Flora’s fine art, commercial assignments, sketches, prints, books, and memorabilia. Our goal is to bring Flora’s work to renewed prominence. We have published four anthologies of Flora art, and several of his books for young readers have been reprinted. Working with the Flora family we produce and market fine art prints (in several formats) of the artist’s idiosyncratic images, including his record covers. Flora spread paint on paper. We’re spreading Flora over the planet.
Jim Flora once said that all he wanted to do was “create a little piece of excitement.” He overshot his goal with much of his work.