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The Mischeivous Art of Jim Flora by Irwin Chusid (Fantagraphics)

Smart, snappy album covers might not seem important in the MP3 age or for CDs, which, based on the sheer volume of hideous disc designs we receive, are often afterthought to the music. But leafing through The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora will make you long for the days when LP art was just that.

Flora designed 78 and LP covers in the 1940s and ’50s for Columbia and RCA Victor, bringing to them a manic energy that was influenced by modernists Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso as well as by ancient Mayan designers and Mexican folkloric styles. In addition to his work for Columbia’s promotional magazine Coda, his work for Little Man Press and various sketches and freelance work, this soft cover, coffee-table-style anthology presents almost all of Flora’s album designs. “I got away with murder, didn’t I?” laughed Flora in a 1998 interview while looking at the loopy cover for Bix and Tram. Did he ever.

Further examples of Flora’s wild imagination include a Sidney Bechet cover featuring a barefooted man wedged in a clarinet floating above his shoes, a one-eyed teepee holding down the drum chair on Charlie Barnet’s Redskin Romp and the Pete Jolly Trio drawn as a one-headed, three-bodied swing monster on Coming-Out Party. And, in a favorite motif, Flora drew Andre Previn and Shorty Rogers as Siamese twins for their Collaboration cover.

“I dearly love people who have mastered their instruments,” the artist said. Flora is a master himself.

Originally Published