“Picasso, Matisse, Steinberg, my friend Charles-they all stole from Jim Flora, who was both ahead of his time and before his time.”
– William Wegman
Jim Flora’s jazz and classical album covers done for Columbia Records and RCA Victor in the 1940’s and ’50s have long been considered icons of the age. His children’s books and magazine illustrations for Look, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated and others conjure the American scene at midcentury. This is the first exhibition to take a comprehensive look at the full range of his work-the commercial work alongside his paintings, prints, and drawings-some of which are exhibited here for the first time.
Born in Bellefontaine, Ohio, and educated at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Flora began his career as an illustrator and art director in New York. He lived in both Westport and Rowayton.
His album covers pulse with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins. Flora wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring flying musicians, levitating instruments and wobbly dimensional perspectives. He did covers for Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Louis Armstrong and many others. As an art director for Research & Engineering Magazine. he brought clarity and a sly humor to the world of science journalism. During his time in New York, Flora once published spot illustrations by a young Andy Warhol. He has influenced many contemporary artists including R. O. Blechman, J. D. King, Shag, and Pixar animator Pete Docter.
Flora’s estate manager and biographer Irwin Chusid gave the Silvermine Galleries full access to Flora’s work, including his sketchbooks. Flora’s artistic work defies easy categorization. His compositions take their inspiration from the petroglyph as much as from the 20th-century worlds of art and music. He deconstructed before it was fashionable to do so. His paintings and prints create an inimitable fusion of the sexual, the architectural and the geometric.
“I could never stand a static space,” Flora once said. His works have a syncopated dynamic. They court playfulness and darkness at the same time. They move. They delight. And they demand another look.
His critics have called his work diabolical and exuberant. What emerges more than ever is its timelessness. It can be looked at now in the clear light of the ages-to which it belongs.