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David Levine (born December 20, 1926) is an Americanmarker artist and illustrator best known for his caricatures in The New York Review of Books. Jules Feiffer has called him "the greatest caricaturist of the last half of the 20th Century".

Early life and education

Levine was born in Brooklyn, where his father ran a small clothing factory. He began to draw as a child, displaying a precocious talent that, at the age of nine, won him an invitation to audition for an animator's position in Disney’s Los Angeles Studios. He later studied painting at Pratt Institutemarker, at the Tyler School of Artmarker in Philadelphia in 1946, and with Hans Hofmann.


He initially hoped to be a full-time painter, but was often forced to subsist on illustration work from publications like Gasoline Retailer. Nevertheless, he turned out a body of paintings, although many of these were destroyed in a fire in 1968. A job at Esquire in the early 1960s saw him develop his skills as a political illustrator.

Levine's first work for The New York Review of Books appeared in 1963. Since then, he has drawn more than 3,800 pen-and-ink caricatures of famous writers, artists and politicians for the publication. Only about half of Levine's caricatures were created for the Review. Other work has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone Magazine, Sports Illustrated, New York Magazine, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The Nation, Playboy, and others. As a caricaturist for these publications, Levine distinguished his process from that of political cartoonists: "I could take time to really look it over and think about it, read the articles and so on. The political cartoonists don't get a chance. The headlines are saying this and this about so-and-so, and you have to come up with something which is approved by an editor. I almost never had to get an approval. In forty years I may have run into a disagreement with The New York Review maybe two times.

Levine's work has been exhibited extensively in galleries and museums around the world, and several collections of his paintings and drawings have been published by the Review and elsewhere. In 2008, he published a book, American Presidents, featuring his drawings of U.S. Presidents over five decades. John Updike, whom Levine has drawn many times, wrote in the 1970s:

Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked, a comic art ready to encapsulate the latest apparitions of publicity as well as those historical devils who haunt our unease. Levine is one of America's assets. In a confusing time, he bears witness. In a shoddy time, he does good work.

According to Vanity Fair, "Levine put together a facebook of human history. ...the durability of those Levine depicted, plus the unique insight with which he drew them, guarantees the immortality of his works". Levine's work, taken as a whole, had a leftwing bent, and he claims still to be a Communist, although people of all political persuasions came in for the same acid treatment in Levine's caricatures. Levine said that "by making the powerful funny-looking... he might encourage some humility or self-awareness". Levine also described his purpose as follows: "Caricature is a form of hopeful statement: I'm drawing this critical look at what you're doing, and I hope that you will learn something from what I'm doing."

Several years ago, Levine was diagnosed with macular degeneration, an eye disease that leads to blindness. While the Review continues to run Levine's older work, no new work has appeared there since April 2007.

See also


  1. Margolick, David. "Levine in Winter," Vanity Fair, November 2008.
  2. Gable, Brian. "A Steady Eye", Literary Review of Canada, Volume 16, Number 7, pp. 16-17, September 2008
  3. "David Levine Gallery," New York Review of Books.
  4. Smallwood, Christine. "Back Talk: David Levine", reprinted from the July 14, 2008 edition of The Nation, accessed April 15 2009
  5. Levine, David. American Presidents, Fantagraphics (2008) ISBN 1606991302

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