The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora

Now that all the heavy news about us moving to Portland is out of the way, I want to get back to what I enjoy about this blog: posting about art and animation. I posted a review of the new Jim Flora book on Drawn! and thought I'd share it with you all here. Please buy the book. It's worth it. Here's the review:

I've been rendered completely numb for the past couple of days because Fantagraphics sent me a copy of The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora, a book that I've been pining for a long time. I did a brief blurb about it last March, and since then I've dedicated a few more posts about Flora both on Drawn! (here and here) as well as on my own blog. Obviously I'm biased about his work, but I don't care -- I know that there are many artists, illustrators and animators who have been heavily influenced by Jim Flora. He was a master of contorted shapes, colors, and figures, all done with a mid-century deconstructive rebel mindset; an iconoclast in every sense of the word, never bowing to the usual editory convictions. I thought that one book on the master would be enough for anyone -- even for diehard fans. But, no. After going through page after page of beautiful long-lost Flora art and reading the breezy and insightful words of Chusid, Curiously Sinister is a must-have for anyone who loves wildly imaginative imagery and unbridled character design.

Often there are wary expectations for anything labeled as a "second collection" because the assessment is that the material contained within is probably, well, secondary or sub-par. A chance to cash-in on the notoriety of Flora's name, right? Not so here. Chusid writes in the introduction of Curiously Sinister that the contents of this book was material that they didn't know existed while compiling the first book. After discovering a storage unit filled top to bottom with oddities and unseen work throughout Flora's career (1930's - '90's), Irwin and co-author Barbara Economon both knew what they had to do: archive all of it immediately and get as much of it out there for the world to see.

And we all should thank them profusely for their efforts. While Jim Flora may be best known for his unique jazz album covers in the 40's and 50's, as well as for his amusing children's books from the 50's into the 70's, what Curiously Sinister does is sidestep the usual Flora fare with artwork that the artist did on the side, on his own time. It's fascinating because after thumbing through page after page of Flora's more personal works was like witnessing a mad scientist concocting incredible creations deep in his basement, no holds barred. Flora's professional work was already a mind-altering head trip, but man -- after just a few pages into this book you'll see that that was just the tip of the illustrative iceberg. And by publishing a second book of Flora artwork, Chusid and Economon offer us the full scope of who James Flora really was, discombobulated figures and all. It's a rare glimpse into the mind of Flora -- a mind that never seemed to concern itself with limitations, constrictions or constraints. Flora offered us more than just "jazz art" -- he gave us limitless possibilities when it comes to our own art.

Other links:

It should be noted that Irwin and Barbara have started up a Jim Flora blog, with some excellent insider notes on various works by the artist.

Support the family: buy original art and prints at the newly redesigned Jim Flora Art (with a nice jazz soundbyte to set the mood); buy t-shirts and other items at the official Jim Flora eBay store. I've got a "Jivin' Teens" t-shirt. Checkit, it's lovely:

Flora shirt

Finally, the official Jim Flora site has also been recently redesigned and it looks mighty swanky. Be sure to check out the special gallery section on woodcuts, where they take a recently discovered Flora woodcut block (dated 1946) and bring it back to life.


  1. I couldn't have said it better myself! Thanks again for the fabulous Flora coverage...I just can't get enough. I'm kicking myself, because I was invited to the party where Irwin Chusid was doing a special "screening" of Jim's secret work, right before the new book was published. I CANNOT wait to get my hands on a copy of this book...because you and I know he influences OUR work highly. I loved your description of him as a mad scientist concocting new creations in his basement. I only hope I can reach his level of visionary expertise...one day...maybe one day.

  2. NEAT-O! (whaddaya expect; the Magna Carta? I'm busy!)

  3. Oh,so wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing all of this! And lovely to hear that you and your family have finally settled down. My life is gonna undergo a serious change as well,like yours. We'll be moving in a month or so time. We'll see how that goes.

    Thanks again,Ward! Take cares! :)