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Jim Flora | Illustrator

The Outrageously Cool Jim Flora

Modern, youthful, sinister at times, but distinctive, with a “go-lucky I’m free” and “I dance a quick jive”—this is Jim Flora’s work to me. My initial exposure to Flora’s art was on the Columbia (1940s) and RCA Victor (1950s) album covers of the original jazz pressings I collected during my teen years in the 70s. Seeing new album covers with his illustrations would be like moments jiving to a hip beat through a maze of lindy hop routines with so many lines, angles and distinctive motifs. First glance might seem like crammed discordant imagery. But, as you begin a visual bebop in your head, you pause in mid-air, absorbing it, and then arranging it, until you end with an eclectic ensemble of understanding. Here in this melody of iconic beings and symbols, you touch down and are left with new revelations of cool, hip and loose. These were the illustrations of Jim Flora for me.

James “Jim” Flora (January 25, 1914 – July 9, 1998) was an author, illustrator and artist whose commercially prolific work spans from the 1940s to the 1970s. Originally Flora’s album illustrations had been made for hire and mass printed in the thousands and were considered throw away art, but today his distinctive style defines an entire genre of artwork known as Outsider Album Art.

Additionally, his commercial work includes illustrated covers and interior articles for many mainstream magazines by the likes of: Fortune, Life, The New York Times Magazine, Mademoiselle, Computer Design, and Collier’s, just to name a few. Flora also authored and illustrated 17 popular children’s books with editors of Harcourt Brace and Atheneum Books, and is often remembered by this “G-rated kid-lit reputation.”

The lesser seen fine art that he produced throughout his life always displayed his unique uninhibited sense of outrageousness. Today, Flora’s work is credited with influencing the low-brow or pop surrealism movement and artists like Tim Biskup and Josh “Shag” Agle.

Like many artists, he created a vast amount art, some of which has only been recently discovered, as Flora’s biographer, Irwin Chusid recalls, “We haven’t counted the pieces in the collection, but it runs into the hundreds: paintings, watercolors, drawings, woodcuts and a lot of long-unseen early commercial work.” While promoting his recent publication The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora, in a 2005 AIGA interview Chusid vividly describes previously unseen and lost pieces:

“A lot of his work is cartoonish. It’s fun to look at, evocative of childhood nostalgia and dereliction of adult responsibility. There are clowns and kitty cats, grinning faces and beaming suns. But despite his later reputation for G-rated kid-lit, Flora, in many of these works, did not restrain himself from expressing darker impulses. There’s no shortage of guns and knives and fang-baring snakes. Muggers run amok, demons frolic with rouged harlots and Flora’s characters suffer from severe disfigurement. These elements–the banal and the violent–often co-exist within inches of each other on the canvas.”

It is from this more recently discovered unseen work of Jim Flora that artmuse.com is now exclusively offering as museum-quality limited edition prints. The prints featured, each originally tempera on paper, are uniquely Jim Flora with his clever and whimsical style. The first print entitled Brain Map from 1964 is a previously uncirculated work first published in The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora. The second print is a previously unpublished work discovered in one of the artist’s sketchbooks and is entitled Abstract Tangle 2.

Flora was an original, and both Brain Map and Abstract Tangle 2 represent his unique style of cockeyed, diabolical, and the absurd. Artmuse.com is honored to work with the Estate of Jim Flora and thrilled to bring these exciting and cool prints for you collect.

written by G McDaniels, artmuse.com contributor

Buy your limited edition prints of  Jim Flora prints now.

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