Monday, February 12, 2007

Gene mutation

On one of his earliest album covers for Columbia Records, Flora, with typical anatomical perversity, endowed jazz drummer Gene Krupa with four legs and five arms, the better to swat a Mattel-sized trap set amid a lemon meringue backdrop. Krupa's face also got a makeover—the red and black checkerboard skin tint was Flora's way of proclaiming, "I can't do likeness!" (The cover was featured in The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora.)


FF to the early 1990s:
Flora was retired, but his artistic impulses remained vibrant. He had undergone countless stylistic turnovers, including years of decorating huge canvases with marine motifs: ocean liners, cruiseships, sailboats, and harbor panoramas were Flora's métier in the 1980s. In 1992, during an adulatory visit from artist/fan Michael Bartalos, Flora learned that a younger generation admired his 1940s and '50s album covers, which had become avidly sought collectibles. This put the artist in a reflective mood. As he later told interviewer Steven Guarnaccia, "I finally painted myself out of ships. Tried to go back to my roots and see what I could do again."

He unshelved some of his early sketchbooks and studied half century-old drafts, which sparked new experiments with old techniques and themes. He created lusty caricatures of beloved Swing and Bebop legends like Zoot Sims and Coleman Hawkins, commemorating a musical age that inspired his "rhythmic design." In 1993, he reworked the 1947 Krupa in pen and ink.

1 comment:

Gene Deitch said...

That Gene Krupa album cover was probably the most direct inspiration for my Record Changer work. But of course I never, never could duplicate or even approach the endless inventive magic of Jim's fabulous work. It's true that on one of my last visits to him, I was at once admiring, but dismayed at his ship paintings. As skillfully done they were, it was not the antic fun and fabulous imagery of the Flora that I loved.