Wednesday, January 09, 2008


David Levine, whose caricatures adorned the New York Review of Books for more than 40 years, recently stepped down due to failing eyesight. “If I look at somebody’s face.... I can’t tell until the person gets within five feet of me who it is.”

After nearly 4,000 caricatures-- a solid body of work to make any artist proud-- Levine has not contributed a new drawing since he was diagnosed with macular degeneration.

But the 80 year old artist will not give up making pictures. He is trying to reinvent his style so he can carry on with poor eyesight. “It didn’t stop Degas [who had the same disease].... He went on to change his way of seeing. He just moved into a rhythm of color and bigger generalities in the way he saw things like hands or faces. … I’m open to that. I’m searching.”

Now that is an artist talking.

The ironic thing is, I was always less impressed with Levine's trademark caricatures than I was with the paintings he did on the side. I think these paintings from the 1970s are marvelous:

This work shows an entirely different set of strengths than Levine's drawing-- an excellent sense of color and composition, an understanding of value, an appreciation for subtle shading. This is not an artist who is limited to petite pen and ink sketches.

Finally, I admire Levine's response to misfortune.
Tennyson's famous poem, Ulysses, describes the ancient Greek hero's decision, at the end of a long life of epic battles with gods and men, to leave home and set out once more for adventure. He rousts his aging comrades to accompany him to see if
Some work of noble note may yet be done
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods
Ulysses admits that old age has robbed them of much, yet he glories in what still "abides":
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I salute David Levine for his resolution not to yield.


T Fedak said...

Your post about David Levine was terrific. I followed up on your post by pointing to sources that discuss evidence that the exaggerations of facial caricatures are similar to how we actually store memories of faces. Check out my post at -

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Tim. I thought your post on this subject was extremely interesting. The relationship between science and art is one of my favorite subjects these days, and I look forward to exploring the material you cite in your post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, dear renegade, I loooove these paintings!!! Made my day!!!

Anonymous said...

Another interesting artist I did´nt know about, beautiful watercolor whith lots of heart and presence. Very inspiring. Makes me want to work with my own stuff.
Thanks David.

mimi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you david... I adore Levine's work and now, if it is possible, seeing his paintings, has raised him in my estimation.

There's so much poetry in these. They're really a joy to look at!


Anonymous said...

Wonderful spontinaity. The textures he is getting by doing things the "wrong" way like flooding areas already colored and bleeding the colors are so right!

Anonymous said...

You are soooo right. His color work (especially what you show) makes me think of a less hooked on realism Burt Silverman.

Darren Di Lieto said...

Inspiring! :)

David Apatoff said...

Dear Tania-- I knew it was only a matter of time before your circle and mine overlapped on the great Venn diagram of art!

Thanks, stiftet, Jacklyn and Anonymous. I'm glad you react to these the way I do.

Kev and Ken, I was really surprised many years ago to see that the highly stylized pen and ink artist could create such lovely paintings. We forget that so many of these older guys had broad training and a range of talents.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Darren!

Hattermad said...

Thanks first for showing us these Levine pics, had never heard of him before. Very very close to the W/C work of Liepke of recent, the loose washes defining, a new W/C hero for me!!!

Anonymous said...

Nice post, with apt Tennyson connection. I'm sorry to hear of Levine's vision problems. Two other artists who suffer from macular degeneration: Thomas Sgouros and Milford Zornes. Zornes is the subject of an article by Gordon McClelland and Austin McClelland, who have written a good deal about the California watercolor school, in the February 2008 issue of American Art Review.

lotusgreen said...

i never knew about the paintings--they're wonderful! thank you david

Anonymous said...

I loved your post about Levine. I had not heard of him before and if I saw his pen and ink drawings and watercolors separately I would not have known it was the same artist. I think it is wonderful that such a talented man can master two different forms. Thanks for highlighting a great artist.

Anonymous said...

I wish to honor Levine for being one of the two inspirational artists (the other one was Uruguayan Hermenegildo Sabat) that drove me into newspaper caricature thirty years ago.
I also knew he was an accomplished watercolorist fond for social realism. I still wonder why he never applied his wc abilities to his caricatures except for a colored-after ink drawing in a Time magazine's cover of Carter's mean brother. Do you know any example of pure watercolored caricatures by him? Thanks