Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's a Flora World. We just live in it.

The Flora Juggernaut appears unstoppable. Our new book, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora, now in its 15th printing since publication a fortnight ago, leapfrogged two Harry Potter totboilers to perch Kong-like atop the New York Times Best-Seller list. Statues of the artist are currently being commissioned in his birthplace of Bellfontaine, Ohio, and in Rowayton, Connecticut, his adopted hometown. Premiere editions of the new U.S. Postal Service's Mambo For Cats first-class stamp became sold-out collector's items upon first day of issue.

Unfortunately, all has not gone smoothly: witness the crushing disappointment of thousands who purchased the Jim Flora Goats 'n Boats 2007 Hunk-a-Monka Wall Calendar. The calendar was discovered to be defective, with August preceding March, the June grid listing nine Sundays, and November—well, it was there when we sent files to the printer. Refund checks are in the mail. We apologize for the misprints and are working to improve our calendars to 99% accuracy by 2012. Meanwhile, please stay on the line. Your call is very important to us.

Monday, February 26, 2007

hyperkinetic hepcats

'Tis the season to Pete Jolly! A new silk-screen print has been introduced to our growing line of iconic Jim Flora merch—the artist's swirly 1955 RCA Victor EP cover for the Pete Jolly Duo. This sleeve rarely turns up on eBay, and Floraphiles have been known to liquidate 401(k)'s to own battered copies. We don't know much about pianist Jolly or his bassist, but apparently they couldn't quit bopping long enough to sit still for this caught-in-the-act portrait by Flora, who gifted Pete with a pair of bonus arms!

Similar to the Mambo For Cats silk-screen print, the Pete Jolly Duo was produced in a limited edition (125) by Minneapolis print and design studio Aesthetic Apparatus, using Flora archivist Barbara Economon's digital restoration of a vintage printer's proof. Prints measure 20" x 20" (much larger than the 7" x 7" EP version), and use three acrylic screen printing inks meticulously matched to Flora's original colors on archival 100-pound off-white cover stock. Each print is numbered on the front and authenticated on the reverse with stamped seals from Jim Flora Art LLC (a Flora family enterprise) and Aesthetic Apparatus. The name "Flora," which was typeset on the original cover, has been replaced with the trademark "Flora" signature from the period. In addition, the musician's names, which appeared in obtrusive typeset (non-Flora) blocks in the original, have been removed to better highlight the vibrating figures.

The first 50 numbered copies will be sold for $125 each, unframed. Further copies will be priced higher as stock depletes. Prints can be purchased here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

the hazards of city life

That's not what this work is titled. It has no title, and it's a detail from a larger, possibly unpublished pen & ink mid-1950s cityscape. But it's typically, Florifically, curiously sinister. And while alligators don't really live in urban sewers, we have it on good authority that giant gophers burrowed the NYC subway system.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"a mid-century deconstructive rebel mindset"

Artist Ward Jenkins reviews The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora at his Ward-O-Matic blog.

Our friend Ward had previously posted about Flora's 1957 kiddie caper, The Day The Cow Sneezed, showcasing some rarely seen draft illustrations.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Flory does Ory

Another early jazz legend revisited by Flora in his later years was New Orleans trombonist Kid Ory, composer of "Muskrat Ramble." Among Ory's bullet points: around 1918 he had the prescience to hire a promising teen trumpeter just starting a music career: Louis Armstrong. Here's Flora's classic 1947 Columbia Records 78 rpm album cover:

Forty-six years later, Flora portrayed Ory shouldering a musical blowtorch:

The above unpublished 1993 pen and ink rendering was actually the third time (at least) that Flora captured Ory. The below unpublished pencil caricature was glued in a scrapbook of early 1940s sketches, and features Ory with fellow trombone legend Honore Dutrey.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

sooted up for work

Along with beasties, boppers and boats, trains were a perennial Flora motif. During the Great Depression he defrayed his tuition costs for the Art Academy of Cincinnati by working the moon-tan shift at a railyard. His uncle Charlie Royer (sketched below in the early 1990s, some sixty years later) was an engineer.

Flora wrote in 1988:
My uncle John Royer was night foreman of the Cincinnati Railroad Terminal Roundhouse. He was able to get me a job wiping the soot off the huge old steam locomotives. I would go to art school from 9:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. and then work in the roundhouse from 5:00 P.M. until 1:00 A.M. It then took me an hour and a half to get from work to my furnished room and to bed by 3:00 A.M. I was always yawning from lack of sleep.

Besides sleep deprivation, the job afflicted Flora with black spots on his lungs. Late in life, he could afford to be nostalgic about the railyard, secure in the knowledge that he could ride through it—and artfully render it—without ever again having to work in it.

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.

Friday, February 9, 2007

government cheese

This three-tiered illustration appeared in the January 25, 1955, issue of Look magazine, accompanying an article by Fletcher Knebel entitled "The Welfare State is Here to Stay." It reappears in our new book, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora. The Nanny State storyline caught the attention of our friend, economics blogger (and Floraficionado) Donald Luskin, who asked permission to post it at

The original illustration has not been found, and most likely wasn't returned by the art editor to the artist—which Flora said was common in that era. Either industry practices changed or the artist asserted a possessive streak, because the Flora archive contains hundreds of his original commercial illustrations from the late 1950s on. However, the classic stuff from the 1940s and early '50s—probably tossed decades ago.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Fauna by Flora 1

A Flora zoo would be a wondrous place to take your three-armed, six-eyed kids. The animals are exotic—often you can't tell what species they belong to. Dogs and pigs, cats and cows, monkeys and donkeys—Flora rendered them with affection but disdained the laws of zoology. In Floraworld, four-legged critters could fly or drive cars, and the color of their fur or hide was a Pantone dart-toss. Here's a curious Flora bestiary (montage by Barb). More to follow.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

And now a message from our sponsor ...

Flora + cats + the mambo = a 1955 record cover that bags beaucoups bucks on eBay and nobody even cares if there's a disc inside because they aren't bidding for the music. We can't sell you copies of this rare LP, but if you'd like a 20" x 20" limited edition, numbered, archival, acrylic silk-screen print of this iconic Flora design, click here. If you don't want it on your wall, but prefer it on your chest, you can wear it by clicking here. And if you don't wear art but your appliances do, click here.

If you don't like cats, make nice with the doggie:

But beware of this guy: