David Levine

2003 Hall of Fame Inductee: David Levine

(b. 1926)

David Levine was born on December 20, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. While in elementary school at PS 241 he discovered cartooning. By age twelve he had a newfound love- the artwork of Walt Disney and of comic book artist Will Eisner, creator of “The Spirit” and “The Hawk”- which set his course for the future. At Erasmus High School, Levine drew cartoons for the school newspaper. He polished his skills at Pratt Institute and completed his formal education at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where he received his BFA and BS. He also spent a year with abstract artist Hans Hoffman, though he would contend that his art education was most enhanced by the ever-changing exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, a favorite haunt.

Levine’s first drawings appeared in Esquire in 1959, and in 1963 his caricatures first appeared in The New York Review of Books, which propelled him quickly into the limelight. His caricatures have graced the covers of TIME, Newsweek, and DerSpiegel, and his editorial features can be found in a host of publications, including The New Yorker magazine. His drawings for The New York Review of Books over the pas thirty years have had great impact; readers continue to look forward to each new issue of the magazine, curious to see his depiction of his next subject.

His level of excellence has made Levine the quintessential and dominant artist of his genre. He possesses that innate ability to create and convince. His knowledge of European and American artist, from the seventeenth century onward, influenced his ideas and his art. Keenly observant and with a uniquely distinctive voice, Levine’s impeccable taste and skill have set him apart from the pack. Levine’s depictions of political and literary figures are sometimes kinds, sometimes not. Many have not escaped his wrath, as he is more than able to pull skeletons out of closets. One is allowed to laugh at or learn something about the subject that would ordinarily be neither funny nor interesting.

Caricature, as a journalistic tool, creates a social self-consciousness. It was popularized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by such greats as Nast, Beerbohm, Dore, Daumier Rolandson, Hogarth, Gill, Tenniel, and Gillray. In is myriad array of styles and applications, caricature amused, shocked, and informed viewers but had lost its fervor over the years until the arrival of David Levine. Levine created a graphic formula with which to express his compassion and outrage, a solid physiognomy in action. The strength of his underlying ideology distinguishes his work from others in the field. His caricatures, with their awareness of social significance and discriminating moral observation, whether sympathetic or not, have created a large audience of admirers and emulators.

Levine’s keen use of cross-hatching to create light, shadow, and texture, is unique. As an artist concerned with politics, Levine reveals the naked truth then personalizes his subjects with wit, love, sympathy, and humor and, as a social critic, with energetic satire. As Hilton Kramer has said of Levine, he is “wickedly intelligent, shamelessly unfair.”

Levine is one American artist who infuses classic draftsmanship with immediately recognizable characters. His work has the ability to incite the viewer to think and be entertained. His exaggerations are discriminating as they explain and illuminate. He has brought caricatural draftsmanship to a distinct art and has established a pictorial satire with a moral purpose. He is an expert in the sort of draftsmanship tailor-made to the expression of his own biting wit, and he remains the critic, not the servant of authority.

Levine’s painting, which might not be as familiar to the general public as his caricatures, is a mastery of watercolor technique. His influences have been varied, among them Vuillard, Prendergast, Bonnard, Corot, Eakins, Degas, and Goya. His mood, texture, tone, coloration, and choice of subject matter are uniquely his own. Subjects are primarily of Coney Island or New York scenes and portraits painted from life. It is Levine’s imagination, spontaneity, use of accidents, instinctive impulses, and passion of selection that comprise his creative process and underscore his standard of excellence.

For over forty years Levine has been exhibiting his works in galleries, with more than thirty-one man shows. He has illustrated numerous books, including The Fable of Aesop, Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Great Train Robbery. He has himself been the subject of many books, such as Caricatures, The Man from M.A.L.I.C.E., No Known Survivors, and Pens and Needles. His awards, too numerous to name, are from the likes of Tiffany Foundation, The Guggenheim Foundation, and The National Academy of Design. He has been profiled in many of the major publications including Esquire, The New York Times, TIME, Print, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Graphis, and Vogue. Represented by the Forum Gallery in New York, Levine has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums around the world.

David Levine’s enthusiasm when creating his art, and his willingness in guiding others on their artistic paths, students and professionals alike, is enduring. His talent is timeless, his legacy secure.

Patrick Milbourn