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Preview: Jim Flora

Jim Flora



The mischievous and diabolic art of James Flora (1914-1998):Glimpses of rare works from the archivesand news about Flora-related projects



Updated: 2017-11-15T07:29:37.990-05:00

 



Mambo for Kittens

2017-08-11T07:55:11.860-04:00


Music critic Dan Armonaitis: Sound Observations: I’ve been looking after a jumpin’, rockin’, screamin’ cat

"Having volunteered to take care of a kitten for a friend who was traveling, I thought the feline might provide a muse as I struggled to come up with something to write about for this column. But every time I tried to focus on a possible topic, she’d hop in my lap and distract me with her soft fur, warm purr and all-around tenderness. As the clock pushed toward midnight before the column’s deadline, I wondered if that darn cat was on the verge of causing me to go to work the next morning empty-handed.

"But just as everything seemed hopeless, the kitty jumped off the couch and slowly walked away. The next thing I know, I look up and she’s crawling across the top of a high back chair during one of her mischievous jaunts toward the spiral staircase in my living room.

"At that precise moment, I found what I’d been looking for. Marrakesh, the kitten, had provided a muse after all. Hanging right in the pathway that the kitty took, I have a framed copy of a 1955 RCA Victor album called Mambo for Cats that features fascinating abstract artwork by renowned commercial illustrator Jim Flora. I purchased the LP for 50 cents at a garage sale nearly two decades ago solely on the strength of its eye-catching cover. I had no idea what the music would sound like, but, at that moment, I really didn’t care.

"It turns out the album is full of some amazing instrumental Latin jazz performed by orchestras led by seminal musicians Damirón, Don Elliott, Tony Martinez, Noro Morales, Perez Prado and Al Romero."



"It will be a great pleasure to pinch your claw"

2017-06-23T23:57:33.359-04:00


Letter from Jim to his longtime friend Gene Deitch, 1972




newly discovered Flora cover?

2016-05-13T13:16:27.278-04:00

We recently discovered this Camden 7" EP that might very well feature an overlooked Flora cover.


The catalog number, CAE-138, dates the release to 1954, during which Flora designed 18 covers for RCA Victor, ten of them 7" EPs for RCA's Camden budget subsidiary (two of which were for the Festival Concert Orchestra, a generic name for an aggregate of stellar musicians who were under contract to other labels). Some were credited to or signed by Flora, others not.

Here's why we think it's a Flora:

• The soldier’s eyes. It's a Flora stare.
• The two-color scheme.
• The soldier’s eyes. Flora was a primary exponent of fried-egg eyes.
• The lady’s boobs.
• The soldier’s eyes.
• The dotted fill in the typography.
• Alternating color backdrop.
• The soldier’s eyes.
• The lady’s dress.
• The lady’s face has a Flora smile.
• The lady is floating in mid-air.
• The soldier’s eyes.

If it's a Flora (as we believe), it's hardly a top-tier Flora, but we'll add it to the catalog.



Crosby Classics

2016-05-15T11:29:16.483-04:00

We're grateful to Jeffrey Ferguson, who alerted us to this previously overlooked early Flora cover.


Based on the catalog number (M-555) and some internet research, this cover dates from 1944, which would make it the earliest known illustrated Jim Flora cover. Though unsigned, the tiger-striped typography and horseback rider point to Flora as the artistic culprit. In 1944 he was art director of Columbia, which was issuing back catalog in 78 folio format owing to a recording ban (a musicians union stoppage) and a shellac shortage (due to the war effort). These Crosby recordings dated from the early 1930s.



Spectators — new fine art print

2016-01-05T01:13:58.054-05:00



At JimFlora.com we're issuing our first new limited edition fine art print in over a year. Spectators, an uncirculated 1940s-era tempera, depicts a phantasmagoria of grotesque faces, with stray limbs. This work has not previously been reproduced or published anywhere. The original is owned by Flora's godson, Keith McAllister, of California, who granted us permission to professionally photograph the work and issue it as a limited edition print. 

Only twenty-five (25) prints of Spectators were produced for this edition. Each print is hand-numbered in the lower right, hand-titled in the lower left (beneath the art), and authenticated on the reverse with the stamped seal of Jim Flora Art (a Flora family enterprise).



WGXC Celebrates Four

2015-02-13T01:25:24.508-05:00

Our good friend and fellow Floraphile Jillian Leigh Sutton, a DJ at WGCX in Hudson, New York, passes along this Florafied invitation:


Brian Dewan, who will be presenting one of his wry original filmstrips, is also a good friend and a member of the Raymond Scott Orchestrette. If you're in the area, go and enjoy yourself while supporting a good cause – regardless of whether you have bonus legs or just the requisite two.



I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo

2015-02-01T13:40:11.321-05:00



Illustration, Columbia Records new popular-release weekly trade mailer Hit of the Week, August 1942, promoting clarinet-tooting bandleader Benny Goodman's new single, "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo." At the time, Flora was working in the Columbia art department under then-Art Director Alex Steinweiss. Another illustration from this series of ads can be viewed here.



Pim's bed and Flora wallpaper

2015-01-27T20:26:58.178-05:00


Flora "Rhapsody (in Blue)" wallpaper by Astek and Double-E featured on the Babyccino blog:


Writes Pim's mom Esther:
Last weekend, my husband and I did something new for both of us: we wallpapered a wall. We learned a lot about measuring, cutting, and patience, and got to deeply respect the skills of professional wallpaperers. But after hard labour I’m proud to present the results: the wall behind Pim’s bed is covered in gorgeous blue wallpaper! Pim picked this design, featuring original drawings by the late Jim Flora, because he loves music and plays the trumpet.
The entire Jim Flora Collection (more than music) by Astek can be viewed here.



Flora tattoo #5 (and 6, 7, 8, etc.)

2015-01-27T20:14:14.488-05:00


We've posted a series of photos of Floraphiles sporting skin art. We neglected this one—actually more than one—sent by Kelly Kimball in 2010. Multiple camera angles required to view the entire anatomical exhibition:




As best we can discern, the details are derived from Mambo for Cats, the Little Man Press, and The FCC's Expanding Demanding Universe, though there might be other sources.

If you missed our prior Flora skin art posts:

Fresh Ink and Flora tattoo #4
Bix, birthday boy
Fresh ink and Flora tattoo #2
Demonstrated commitment!



Sun Ra: Solo Piano (a la Flora)

2015-01-27T20:48:15.269-05:00



Another Flora album cover—although in this case the product is digital-only. The illustration originally appeared in the December 1945 issue of Columbia's Coda new-release monthly, which Flora wrote, edited, and illustrated for three years. The detail was adapted for this digital album cover by Flora co-archivist Irwin Chusid, who also represents the Sun Ra estate. The album is available at iTunes.

Flora's album cover legacy has extended into the 21st century, with designers adapting his images for new releases, which can be viewed in the CD gallery at JimFlora.com.



Fresh Ink and Flora tattoo #4

2015-01-27T20:29:59.462-05:00



Reader/art lover Tiago writes: "I am a huge fan of Jim Flora’s work. (I have already bought books and prints.) I would like to share this image of my latest tattoo, from a Flora work. Hope you guys like it! It is a sincere homage to one of my favorite artists!"

The original illustration is from 1942:


This isn't the first time Flora has inspired skin art:

Bix, birthday boy
Fresh ink and Flora tattoo #2
Demonstrated commitment!




The Panic Is On

2014-12-26T01:32:24.298-05:00


(image)
The Panic is On, pen & ink, 1990s, unpublished
(No relation to the Nick Travis 1955 LP cover)




proud Floraphile

2014-10-29T01:03:16.759-04:00


Musician Mike Keneally is a Floraphile.
Info on Mike at AllMusicand here's his website.
Photo by my brother Dan Chusid, October 2014.
The book he's holding is our 2013 anthology



"Oldtown"

2014-10-22T11:06:55.211-04:00



"Oldtown," pen and ink drawing, late 1930s, unpublished work. Oldtown (or Old Town?) is presumably a neighborhood in Cincinnati, where Flora lived at the time he rendered this drawing. We were unable to locate this community in a rudimentary search on our Google Machine. If any locals have the answer, please leave a comment below. 



anthropomorphic lobsters

2014-10-21T00:22:33.574-04:00


Untitled pencil drawings for unknown project,
discovered in 1960s sketchbook



A Flora Centennial Exhibit Sept 20-Nov 2

2014-09-06T10:02:11.731-04:00


A Centennial Fine Art Retrospective, 1940-1975

(image)
detail, untitled tempera on paper, mid-1940s
We'll celebrate the Flora centennial with a major fine art exhibition at the Silvermine Arts Center, Norwalk CT, from September 20 – Nov 2, 2014. The exhibit, curated by Irwin Chusid, co-archivist of the Jim Flora collection, will feature dozens of rarely seen original paintings and a handful of new prints, most never previously exhibited. Flora and his wife Jane were members of the legendary Silvermine Guild of Artists, so this exhibit represents a homecoming of sorts.

(image)
untitled tempera on paper, early 1960s
There will be an opening reception on Friday, Sept 19, from 6-8pm. Come hoist a plastic "glass" of champagne in honor of the Mischievous Mr. Flora.

(image)
Depot Fire, tempera on paper, late 1960s




The High Fidelity Exhibition

2015-01-24T23:26:21.266-05:00



You can buy our fourth anthology The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora and browse the man's legendary album illustrations between book covers. Or you can attend Jalopy's similarly named exhibit and be surrounded by four walls of Flora. Those walls will be adorned with vintage LP and 78 covers, proof sheets, and oversized reproductions from our fine art print catalog. The Brooklyn-based club's exhibit opens Friday June 13 from 6 - 8pm, during which yours truly will be on hand to: 1) sign your copy of The High Fidelity Art; 2) spin Flora-centric music (trad jazz, swing, and hard bop, with a smattering of Third Stream); and 3) chat about Flora. Admission is FREE, and you don't have to buy a book to attend. Jalopy has a restaurant next door to the club, and the fare is scrumptious.

Jalopy is located in Red Hook, Brooklyn (315 Columbia Street, specifically). It's not that hard to get to, though locals have a saying, "It takes people in Red Hook two hours to get to Red Hook." You can find it. It's a very cool place to hang, and it's run by a cool couple, Lynette and Geoff Wiley, who recently gave birth to a couple of cool twins.



Hipsters, Flipsters ...

2014-04-05T06:00:07.043-04:00


Richard Myrle Buckley was born 108 years ago today in Tuolumne, CA. He later self-applied the deferential appellation Lord and became a fixture on the New York jazz nightclub scene, transforming into what his biographer Michael Monteleone described as "a strange but intriguing mix of a proper English peer of the realm and a street corner jive hipster." He played the Vaudeville circuit, was friends with gangster Al Capone, appeared on The Tonight Show, married six times, and died broke, leaving an idiosyncratic legacy of oral literature, some of it captured on tape, vinyl, and film.

You can hear one of his Lordship's epic declarations here. It's the title track from the very rare 1955 10" record (above) with a famous Flora illustration. The cover is available as a limited edition fine art print at JimFlora.com. Or you can order a Buckley portrait rendered by noted illustrator Drew Friedman. The Friedman portrait looks like Buckley. The Flora portrait looks like ... well, like Flora.



murder in the Keystone State

2015-02-01T13:39:41.683-05:00



Spot illustration, Columbia Records new popular-release weekly trade mailer, November 7, 1942, promoting bandleader Horace Heidt's new single, "Pennsylvania Polka." Despite the caption,  there appear to be no casualties on the dance floor.



Jim Flora: The First 100 Years

2014-01-25T12:54:57.732-05:00



One hundred years ago today, James Royer Flora was born in the quaint village of Bellefontaine, Ohio. Above, possibly making its first public appearance, is the artist's earliest extant work, a pen & ink with pencil (or charcoal) entitled First Steps, dated June 8, 1935, around the time Flora enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Whether the work is intended to be autobiographical shall forever remain a mystery.

To observe the centennial, we have two exhibits in development, and one or two others under consideration. The first, at a cool Brooklyn club/bistro/gallery called Jalopy, will run from June 13 to August 22. Because the club's decor is largely music-themed, this exhibit will spotlight Flora's album cover art—which also happens to be the focus of our most recent anthology, The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora (published by Fantagraphics in August 2013). On display will be original copies of Flora album covers—some extremely rare—as well as selected offerings from our album cover fine art print catalog.

The second will be a major retrospective of Flora's fine art and commercial illustrations at Silvermine Art Center, in Norwalk, Connecticut. The opening reception takes place September 21, and the exhibit runs for six weeks. Flora and his artist wife Jane, whose Bell Island home was part of greater Norwalk, were members of the Silvermine Guild of Artists, so this exhibit is something of a homecoming. Dozens of rare works will be displayed, along with paintings and original artist prints which have appeared in our four anthologies.

So, to the esteemed Mr. Flora, wherever you are:





Flora at BlissTopic Arte

2014-01-20T13:40:45.981-05:00


For our Spanish-speaking (-reading, actually) Floraphiles, here's a lengthy profile of our upcoming centenarian (Jan. 25) by Esther B. Vigil at BlissTopic.com. The title, EXORCIZANDO DEMONIOS AL RITMO FRENÉTICO DEL JAZZ, translates as "exorcising demons to the rhythm of jazz," which is an interesting take on Flora's devilish creations. The images were borrowed from our website, except for a 1950s photo we provided of Flora at work in his studio. The article includes the 1959 UPA animated version of Flora's kiddie book The Fabulous Firework Family, for which Flora created the storyboard but not the art used in the cartoon.



Party Animals

2013-12-24T16:55:21.079-05:00


Detail of untitled 1940s tempera casually referred to as "Tenement K," which contains quite a few enigmatic and disturbing tenants. The original work is owned by Keith McAllister, who extracted the above celebratory duo to produce a holiday card titled "Party Animals." No better way to ring in seasonal festivities than a curiously sinister Flora tableau.



Tenement K

2013-10-22T10:14:40.333-04:00


Today we introduce a new limited edition fine art print called TENEMENT K, whose residents are bawdy, musical, criminal, and/or exhibitionistic. Doesn't matter if you're rowdy, serpentine, or headless—the landlord will rent you a room. If you were a mutant miscreant, you'd be home by now.

The previously unpublished and uncirculated work, which dates from the 1940s, is owned by a private collector who allowed us to have the work professionally photographed for print reproduction. Although the work is untitled, we have provisionally named it Tenement K to differentiate it from other untitled Jim Flora works.

Only forty (40) prints of Tenement K were produced for this edition. Each archival-quality 22" x 17" print is hand-numbered in the lower right and authenticated on the reverse with the stamped seal of Jim Flora Art (a Flora family enterprise). The provisional title does not appear in the print markings.

The launch price is $175.00 each (+ shipping and handling). Prices will increase as the edition sells down. Full print specs are included on the Tenement K page at JimFlora.com.



music and art in the crib

2013-10-11T14:36:22.911-04:00


(image)
Flora, grinning (ca. 1985)
Flora's daughter Roussie Jacksina has received her complimentary copy of The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora. She writes:
Hi Irwin, I received the book today and it is GORGEOUS! Where on earth did you find all that new material? You are amazing sleuths and the book is stunning. Assuming Dad is among us in the 4th dimension, I'm sure he is grinning wide.

I think the first music I ever heard was a record of Josh White singing "One Meatball" and I heard it in my crib. It's because of Dad's musical influence that I dropped out of college to hang out in jazz clubs and art galleries—not that that was his wish for me, nor was he very pleased.

Thanks so much for the copy. You, Barbara, and Laura did a fabulous job.

Roussie



Gene Deitch: Flora had an "overpowering influence" on my style

2013-10-07T11:48:09.893-04:00


Animation legend GENE DEITCH was a longtime friend of Jim Flora, a friendship that commenced in the 1940s and ended only with Flora's death in 1998. Today Gene wrote to us:
(image)
Pete Jolly Duo EP from back cover of
The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora
THE HIGH-FIDELITY ART OF JIM FLORA arrived!  This latest treasury of Jim's art is the closest to my heart, as it covers the exact material that led me to him in the mid 1940s—and which had an overpowering influence on my own graphic attempts.  Everyone who followed my work in the Record Changer magazine, reproduced in the Fantagraphics book, THE CAT ON A HOT THIN GROOVE, knows that much of my stuff was flat-out Flora imitation-emulation, though I clearly knew all the while that Jim's endless graphic invention was inimitable.

Jim himself was in many ways a parallel of his iconic images, a sum of many parts, just as all the convoluted sassy segments strung-out in space joined into a dazzling whole.  A genius of his order may have had every reason to be arrogant, distant, or cold—yet Jim was downright jolly, warm-hearted, caring and helpful. He never berated me for stealing his stuff, but rather encouraged me and worked with me. I tried to work more with him, but am grateful that I was at least able to produce animated versions of his FABULOUS FIREWORKS FAMILY at Terrytoons and LEOPOLD, THE SEE-THROUGH CRUMB-PICKER here in Prague. Best of all, I am proud that he became my close friend and regular correspondent.  His final letter to me lingers in my heart. This new book of his further ensures that I will never forget him.
Gene's The Cat On a Hot Thin Groove was recently republished by Fantagraphics with a new cover: