Thursday 31 December 2009


My obituary of David Levine is online at, you can link to it here. It ought to be in the next print edition, and has a lovely Eisenstadt photo portrait of Levine at work. Sadly, they changed my description of Henry Kissinger 'screwing' the world in one of Levine's most memorable caricatures to 'copulating' with her, thus losing the double entendre, which I heard Levine describe in an interview, in a sort of cackle: 'he was screwing the world and they kept giving him more chances to do it!'. It's also the expression on Kissingers' face, pure childish bliss and greed, which helps make the drawing work so well.

The change suggests a bit of respectability that somehow echoes the New York Times' editorial page killing another of Levine's Kissinger drawings, to which I refer in the obit. On there's a fascinating piece about those killed cartoons; they've now been collected by the long-time art editor of the Times, Jerelle Kraus, in a book called All The Art That's Fit To Print, published by Columbia U, and you can link to that here. According to the article, a 1991 Levine cartoon they didn't kill raised a huge negative response; it showed the descent of man, from Clark Gable to Saddam Hussein, via apes and chimps, thus offending any number of people, as well as, the Groucho Marx in me calls out, apes and chimps.

I would have loved to go on about his 'serious' art: his watercolours on the shoreline remind me of Winslow Homer, a little bit of Hopper, and they have a wonderful sense of the open loneliness of the coast. His Brooklyn paintings, of architecture that marks the borough, cross Demuth and Marin, and it's a fascinating combination. They are not hugely original, but they are very satisfying. I would also have loved to detail many more of his non-political subjects, his John Wayne or Ted Williams (he was a huge Dodgers' fan...of course the Brooklyn sports' ground to which the Guardian refers was Ebbetts Field, where Marianne Moore was among the regulars.

It's hard to explain just how important Levine's art was to a certain kind of American--the kind who read what Esquire, I think, once lampooned as the New York Review of Us. If the magazine's articles sometimes meander, Levine's art inevitably got you straight to the point, and his point was inevitably right on. I was impressed to discover that, although he grew up in Flatbush and had worked his way up to the Heights, he remained a real Brooklynite to the end. It makes me want to find a place to start a breakfast club too....which reminds me, last Sunday we saw Alan Greenspan chowing down in Dan Snyder's box at the Redskins' game, and it reminded me of one of my favourite Levine drawings, which you can see to the right. It was a privilege to be able to write an appreciation of Levine's life, especially on the last day of 2009.

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