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.
A CLOWDER OF CATS
We have a new $25 open-edition mini-print—a sextet of frolicking kitties we call A Clowder of Cats. Flora loved animals and over the years created countless images of cats, dogs, birds, horses, fish, and a few alligators. This previously unpublished circle of cats, rendered with pen & ink, dates from the 1990s, after Flora had retired from commercial illustration and was spending his retirement creating new works every day.
The old JimFlora.com was looking a bit "early web," so we recently redesigned, improved, reconfigured, updated, refashioned, reorganized and repainted the place. New images have been posted, there's greater ease of navigation, the site is responsive to phones and tablets, the checkout system has been streamlined, and our pages have that new website smell.
Steven Heller of Printmag.com conducted a January 2018 interview with Flora archivist Irwin Chusid, who talks about the revamped site and the ongoing work preserving and presenting Flora's artistic legacy.
"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’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 was one of a kind.” — Lane Smith
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“Flora’s work features great modernist design and eye-catchingly expressive cartoon characters, and neither loses out to the other.” — Pete Docter
"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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“Exciting eyeball jazz.” — John Canemaker
"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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"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 did it like nobody else.” — Shag
"A twisted, bizarre, joyous genius of an artist." — Drew Friedman
"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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“Flora has a special genius all of his own.” — Jason Lethcoe