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.
Our third release of 2021 is BARBERINNI, a riotous European cityscape inspired by Flora's 1962 sojourn to Italy. It is available now as a limited edition of 25 fine art prints.
HARBOR 63, a colorful Jim Flora maritime scene, was issued in April as a limited edition fine art print. This 1963 tempera depicts a quiescent New England harbor with docked boats and gulls aloft. The work was issued in a limited edition of 20 prints.
RIALTO, a wild Jim Flora tempera, was released in March 2021 as a limited edition fine art print. This early 1950s painting depicts the usual Flora vortex of otherworldly mutants, sex, peek-a-boo tenements, off-kilter landscapes, disjointed faces, and visual overload. The work was issued in a limited edition of 35 prints.
"Jim was one of my closest friends and my earliest graphic influence. In the 1940s, his stuff sent me into a buzz, and I was brazenly imitating his style in my work." — Gene Deitch
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“Flora has a special genius all of his own.” — Jason Lethcoe
"A twisted, bizarre, joyous genius of an artist." — Drew Friedman
“Flora’s work features great modernist design and eye-catchingly expressive cartoon characters, and neither loses out to the other.” — Pete Docter
“Exciting eyeball jazz.” — John Canemaker
"Flora’s illustrations have that almost impossible-to-attain quality that work done for commercial consumption rarely has: his vintage drawings and designs are still interesting and lively today." — Chris Ware
“Flora was one of a kind.” — Lane Smith
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"Jim Flora was a big influence for me, and I was inspired by the spontaneity and animation in his work." — Lane Smith
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"Flora took the modernism of painters such as Miro, Klee and Picasso, blended it with a jazz sensibility and added a dollop of the Sunday funnies pages." — JD King
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"Designer, illustrator and record cover maestro, Flora was a master of many forms, who left a legacy that has been difficult to categorize." — Steven Heller (PrintMag.com)
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"Flora’s designs are magically simple distillations of Cubism, Surrealism and cartoon madness, with playful figures and instruments floating in planes of color." — Ben Sisario
“Flora did it like nobody else.” — Shag