“Music releases my inhibitions. Gradually, I’m listening to music and my spirit gets free and I work without thinking. Which is how you really create—without thinking. Music — jazz in particular — helps me flow. I can swing a little bit — try this, try that.” – Jim Flora, interview, 1990
Since the publication of The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora in 2004, the once-overlooked illustrator (1914–1998) has gained recognition as one of the foremost pioneers of a raucous, cartoonish style of commercial art that defines the mid-century aesthetic. Two follow-up volumes of Floriana, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora (2007) and The Sweetly Diabolic Art of Jim Flora (2009), captured the artist’s devilish and largely unseen fine-art works. Each volume reflected recurring themes: architecture, cats and dogs, science, maritime, children’s literature, cars, trains, and penchants for mischief and visual violence.
But one of Flora’s sustaining loves was music. His 1940s and ’50s Columbia and RCA Victor record covers in which legendary musicians were routinely afflicted with mutant skin tints and bonus limbs are classics of caricature. Flora was art director for Columbia from 1943 to 1945 and remained with the company until 1950. During this period — and during the 1950s as a freelancer — he produced an enormous amount of promotional ephemera, including new release monthlies, trade booklets, ads, and point-of-sale novelties. Music was Flora’s lifelong passion, which he expressed in rhythmic design tinged with a wicked sense of the absurd.
The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora, long out of print, featured Flora’s known album covers at the time of publication (no complete discography ever existed). In the intervening nine years, more covers have surfaced, as well as rough drafts and unpublished designs.
Flora co-archivists Irwin Chusid and Barbara Economon have compiled a complete collection of Flora covers (including recent discoveries) and unpublished sketches in one volume, augmented by music images not included in previous volumes. The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora is the definitive anthology of the maestro’s visual compositions, reflecting jazz, classical, and Latin music. Regarding his jam-packed canvases, Flora once said he “couldn’t stand a static space.” There’s nothing static about the images in The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora: they wail, dance, bounce, and swing from the chandeliers. Flora had a knack for grooving with a paintbrush, making art to which you can tap your toes and snap your fingers.
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