Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jim Flora

James (Jim) Flora concocted dozens of diabolic and hallucinatory album cover illustrations, many for Columbia and RCA Victor jazz artists, in the 1940s and '50s. His designs pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins, who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop-hued horns.

Yet Flora's wondrous, childlike exuberance was subverted by a sinister tinge of the grotesque. He wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring up flying musicians, levitating instruments, and wobbly dimensional perspectives. He also took liberties with human anatomy, evoking bonded bodies, mutant appendages, ghoulish skin tints, and misshapen heads. He was not averse to pigmenting Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa like bedspread patterns.

James (Jim) Flora was born 25 January 1914, in Bellefontaine, Ohio, the son of James Bernard (a barber) and Laura (Royer) Flora. He attended Urbana University (1931-1933), the Art Academy of Cincinnati (1934-1939), and Atelier 17 (two years). He co-founded The Little Man Press, a series of letterpress publications, with author Robert Lowry (1919-1994), and provided illustrations and designs for Little Man publications (1939-1942). After graduating from the Art Academy, he began freelancing in Cincinnati. His clients included Procter and Gamble and the Union Central Life Insurance Co.

Flora was hired by the art department of Columbia Records in 1942, and established a reputation for his eccentric and amusing style of caricature, which appeared in Columbia's trade literature and ads. He became the label's art director in 1943, and was later promoted to advertising manager, and then sales promotion manager. He began designing (without credit) album covers for Columbia around 1945. Around 1947 he began a series of idiosyncratically stylized, cartoonish covers (usually signed), which are today considered some of the more dazzling exemplars of the early golden age of album cover design. Some of these works can be viewed here and there´s also a flickr collection here


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