Monday, January 9, 2012

Illustrating the Jazz Era [Jim Flora]

James (Jim) Flora is best-known for his wild jazz and classical album covers for Columbia Records (late 1940s) and RCA Victor (1950s). He authored and illustrated 17 popular children's books and flourished for decades as a magazine illustrator. Few realize, however, that Flora (1914-1998) was also a prolific fine artist with a devilish sense of humor and a flair for juxtaposing playfulness, absurdity and violence.  Cute - and deadly.

Flora's album covers pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop-hued horns. Yet this childlike exuberance was subverted by a tinge of the diabolic. Flora wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring flying musicians, levitating instruments, and wobbly dimensional perspectives.
Taking liberties with human anatomy, he drew bonded bodies and misshapen heads, while inking ghoulish skin tints and grafting mutant appendages. He was not averse to pigmenting jazz legends Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa like bedspread patterns. On some Flora figures, three legs and five arms were standard equipment, with spare eyeballs optional. His rarely seen fine artworks reflect the same comic yet disturbing qualities. "He was a monster," said artist and Floraphile JD King. So were many of his creations.

All text and illustrations come from this wonderful site dedicated to his art:

Illustrating the Jazz Era [John Held Jr.]

If ever an artist's work so consummately defined a particular era, it was that of the Roaring Twenties illustrator John Held, Jr. (January 10, 1889 – March 2, 1958), whose creations both set the standard for-and gently ribbed-a generation. More than any other artist of his time, Held expressed in his pictures the bold spirit of the Jazz Age. It was a time of bustling commerce, booming enterprises, and engaging recreation. Society's elite were dining at Sardi's, the adventurous were doing the Charleston and the Shimmy in dance marathons, and the flapper was in full vogue, out and about in pursuit of a good time. Chronicling it all, for magazine readers coast-to-coast, was John Held, Jr. [1]
One of the best known magazine illustrators of the 1920s, Held created cheerful art showing his characters dancing, motoring and engaging in fun-filled activities. The drawings, especially his archetypical flapper illustrations, defined the flapper era so well that many people are familiar with Held's work today. [2]

While his drawings were published in such publications as Life and Judge, it was his work for the fledgling magazine "The New Yorker" that established Held in the eyes of the nation. His depictions of Betty Coed, the prototypical "flapper" (along with her gentleman friend, Joe College), became the quintessential definition of the decade's "flaming youth." [1]

Readers of "Harper's Bazaar," "Redbook," and "Vanity Fair" would be hard-pressed to avoid Held's ubiquitous depictions of the Jazz Age's high-living college crowd. The characters' contemporaries got a real kick out of Held's creations, and parents of the younger generation turned to these illustrations for a clearer understanding of their children.  [1]


Here's a very thorough article about John Held Jr. with many illustrations:
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