Saturday, January 2, 2010

David Levine 1926-2009

David Levine died this week, aged 83 years, leaving behind a life's work of extraordinary wit, humor, and biting truth. He was an artist with an enormous following (assuming, optimistically, that a literate, politically aware population can still be judged enormous) but a fairly low profile. I imagine even many of those who enjoyed his regular contributions to the New York Review of Books were not aware of details beyond those brilliant drawings. Levine was New York born, bred, and educated, but was also a worthy heir to great traditions in political drawing. I've read comparisons to various predecessors but I find the closest one to be Honore Daumier (French, late 19th c.) who was similarly good-natured about going for the juglar, and who, like Levine, was also a skillful painter of everyday scenes with a soft sense of color and touch. I've picked out a few samples of David Levine's work from the thousands available on sites, including: The evidence of all these drawings shows the extremely high standard he set for himself: perhaps it all came easy to him, but he never seemed to falter on any front: likeness, informed subtext, and of course, the amazing art value of every single drawing - expressive line, contrast of black and white in just the right proportions, a breathtaking sense of composition. He had an amazingly flexible bag of tricks with which he entertained and immortalized - Nixon as a long-haired mutt, Kissinger f**king the world, LBJ's Vietnam scar, Picasso as his own drawing of a bull, Stravinsky, upon his death, as a giant nose heading for his Venice burial in a gondola. We are all richer for the gifts he used so generously. Thank you, David Levine.