The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora
La Fiambrera Art Gallery is honored to exhibit—in Spain for the first time—the work of American illustrator, author, and fine artist Jim Flora. The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora presents his legendary 1940s album sleeves for Columbia Records and 1950s LP covers for RCA Victor. Flora created an idiosyncratic visual language while pioneering a stylish alternative to illustrative music art. Since the 2004 publication of The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora (by Fantagraphics), the first of four volumes dedicated to his work, his wild covers have become iconic examples of midcentury commercial art, and his style has influenced countless artists, illustrators, cartoonists and graphic designers.
The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora presents a definitive survey of his record jacket work, in which he mischievously weaves his paintbrush through the worlds of Jazz, Classical and Latin music. Every square inch of real estate on the canvas is occupied with activity. About these manic, busy tableaus, Flora confessed that he “couldn’t stand a static space.” Everything is in motion: the extravagant post-Cubist creatures dance, twist, jump and bounce. These mutant figures have bedspread-tinted skin and bonus limbs. Flora had a knack for grooving with a paintbrush, making art to which you can tap your toes and snap your fingers.
This show exhibits most of the original sleeves Flora illustrated between 1946 and 1961. These original artifacts are from the private collection of Irwin Chusid, Flora biographer, archivist, and curator. The album covers in The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora are accompanied by serigraphs, giclées, and woodcuts published over the past two decades, including limited edition proofs of works which are sold out.
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.
James (Jim) Flora is best-known for his wild jazz and classical album covers for Columbia Records and RCA Victor (late 1940s to late 1950s), but he authored and illustrated 17 popular children’s books and flourished for decades as a magazine illustrator. At the time, few knew that Flora 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. On some Flora figures, three legs and five arms were standard equipment, with spare eyeballs optional. His fine art works reflect the same comic yet disturbing qualities.
Born in Bellefontaine, Ohio, in 1914, James Flora was trained at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1936-39). After struggling as a commercial freelancer, in 1942 he moved to Connecticut after accepting a job in the Columbia Records art department. One year later the label appointed him art director. Flora revolutionized the look of Columbia’s ads and retail circulars with his wild cartoonish illustrations. He was promoted several times, and though no longer art director, he began illustrating jazz album covers for the label in 1947. However, his executive chores with the company meant less opportunity to create art. In 1950, Flora resigned and moved to Mexico with his family. After 15 months of exotic life south of the border, during which he and his wife created a mountain of art, Flora returned to Connecticut in 1951. He embarked on a lengthy and prosperous career as a freelance commercial artist, children’s book author/illustrator, and album cover designer for RCA Victor. Despite the demanding deadlines, Flora found time to indulge his fine art impulses. He painted, sketched, created woodcuts, and made relief prints at home and during travels. Even in retirement, and particularly during the decade before his death in July 1998, he created an enormous body of work.
La Fiambrera Art Gallery is proud to present James Flora’s mischievous art to public thru his fine art prints, serigraph prints, and woodcuts, by special arrangement with the Jim Flora Estate and co-archivists Irwin Chusid and Barbara Economon.