Friday, October 10, 2008

that Latin Jazz stamp

A number of Floraphiles have alerted us to a new US Postal Service stamp commemorating Latin Jazz (issued September 8, 2008). They assert that: 1) the artist is, to put it kindly, "imitating Flora," or 2) Flora himself designed the stamp.

The stamp was illustrated by Michael Bartalos, a talented artist who would not deny a Flora influence -- in fact, he was friends with Jim. Arguably it is Bartalos to whom we owe the Flora renaissance. He "discovered" a largely forgotten Flora in retirement in 1992, and subsequently brought JD King into contact with the artist. It was JD who, in turn, introduced me to Flora in 1997. Thus evolved the Flora Underground, and the subsequent revival and cottage industry. Michael penned an eloquent reminiscence about his first meeting with the illustration legend in our book The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora.

The Latin Jazz design was assigned to Mike by Dick Sheaff, a (recently retired) USPS art director who is also a veteran Floraphile. Dick told me that when the assignment crossed his desk, he regretted that Flora wasn't alive to design it, so he turned to another exponent of a similar style of illustration. While the stamps remain available, they can be purchased online at USPS.com.

2 comments:

Michael Bartalos said...

Irwin, thanks for this post and for addressing the inquiries about the stamp. Your account is accurate and needs no elaborating on, but thought I'd chime in anyway as the stamp's designer.

To further assuage those who feel that I'm, kindly put, "imitating Flora" (thank you for sparing me the less kind intimations), I just want to mention that my graphic, shape-driven style was well in place by the time I encountered my first Flora in 1992. Considering our shared influences -- Stuart Davis, Calder, Miro, to name a few -- it's little wonder that Jim and I arrived at similar stylistic sensibilities independent of one another. My discovery of our shared tastes is precisely what prompted me to seek him out that very same year, and we both reveled in it. To put it succinctly: Jim further influenced, inspired and encouraged me on a path I was already on.

That said, I was well aware that the Latin Jazz stamp was meant for Jim had he still been around. I regret that he wasn't. The theme was clearly his domain. Honored to be next in line, I resolved to design a stamp that both celebrates Hispanic culture and pays homage to our favorite granddaddy of jazz album design. As I wrote to his daughter Julia some months ago (and mention at every stamp talk and presentation I give), this stamp is dedicated to Jim's memory. So I do hope that a degree of his exuberant spirit comes through in my design. If that's what's being recognized, I graciously accept it as the highest compliment.

Dick Sheaff said...

Irwin & Michael: I originally presented to the USPS a number of actual Flora designs re-purposed as a Latin Jazz stamp. Several, of course, would have made great stamps and paid direct homage to Flora. But collectively we felt it preferable to commission contemporary design rather than to recycle the spectacular work of Flora: hence, the spectacular work of Michael Bartalos! Dick Sheaff