web analytics
November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » Sections » Arts »

David Levine, 1924 – 2009: A Satirist Who Loved His Species

At a parent-teacher conference, one of my high school bible instructors told my mother I was well behaved and sat quietly in the back of the room. “If he is sitting quietly in class,” my mother assured the rabbi, “he is either reading a book or drawing.” She was right. My primary high school achievements were my ravenous readings of philosophy and literature and the few hundred copies I made of David Levine’s brilliant pen-and-ink caricatures, which filled several sketchbooks. I was too young to get most of his political references, but when they were explained to me, I laughed genuinely and hysterically.

 

Even after I moved to New York, it never occurred to me to look Levine up in the phonebook. He was a role model and one of my greatest inspirations, and I assumed that he was inaccessible. I had no way of knowing how kind and humble he was. Then I met artist Mark Podwal, a close friend of Levine’s, at an event at the Yeshiva University Museum in 2004, and he encouraged me to make the call.

 


David Levine. Ben Gurion.

 

 

I still remember the phone call. I was sitting at a computer in the office of the Yeshiva University Commentator. When Levine picked up, I told him I learned how to draw portraits by trying in vain to copy his meticulous cross-hatching. Though I was sure the artist who published thousands of drawings and paintings in the New York Review of Books and in publications like The New Yorker and Time had better things to do with his time, he shocked me by agreeing to an interview right then. After the shock wore off, chutzpah kicked in; I told him I wanted to meet in person. To my surprise, he was giving me his address in Brooklyn and telling me to stop by the next week.

 

Levine gave me more than two hours of his time, and actually looked at and critiqued every single one of the 100 or so of my drawings in the sketch book I brought. He very kindly told me that he preferred my copy of his Ezra Pound (which I drew without lifting my Rapidograph pen) to the original. Needless to say, there was no comparison.

 

There have been many fine articles about Levine over the past few weeks (Michael Kimmelman’s in The New York Times and Steven Heller’s piece “The Da Vinci of Caricaturists” are personal favorites), and readers can find out plenty about him by reading his bio on the Review of Books page, where many of his drawings are available. Amongst those drawings are dozens of images of Jewish and Israeli politicians, actors, artists, intellectuals and other celebrities, many bearing very distinct Jewish symbols.

 


David Levine standing in front of some of his drawings. 2004.

Photo by Menachem Wecker.

 

 

The reason I am writing this column about Levine, though, is not only because I consider him such a great caricaturist (and an even more impressive painter), but also because he was such a great man. Both Levine’s wife Kathy Hayes and his son Matthew Levine told me that Levine, despite the biting humor of his drawings, “truly loved his species.” Levine’s art was always blunt, but he was neither petty nor vicious.

 

Hayes told me that her husband’s lap was always full of art books, even if the television was on, and that he impressed her with the humor of his non-sequiturs – in his conversation, not his drawings. The first time she went to Europe with her husband, Hayes said, they went to Notre Dame. Hayes remembers being blown away by the art, while Levine, looking up at a painting high up on the wall, loudly complained of its water damage and the poor lighting.

 

According to Matthew Levine, his father was not religiously observant, but “I do know that he loved being Jewish.” Levine also “relished Yiddishisms that he liked to say,” said Matthew, and he loved his mother’s geshmirte matzoh. “He was deeply supportive of Israel in some senses, and deeply critical in others.”

 

Although Levine told me that he did not think Hitler could be depicted properly in a caricature, because the medium would invariably distort Hitler and play into his favor, Levine drew Hitler dozens of time. One reference to Hitler might escape many viewers.

 

 


David Levine. Richard Nixon’s and Spiro Agnew’s dance. 1970.

 

 

According to Podwal, Levine’s drawing of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (which appears on page 11 of Levine’s book Pens and Needles), both dressed in military uniforms and doing a dance with their hands on their hips, alludes to Hitler’s bizarre dance on June 21, 1940, after accepting France’s surrender.

 


Although the dance upset many Americans at the time, it was later revealed that the video clip of Hitler dancing had been manipulated for propagandist purposes. As John Lukacs explains in his book, The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, John Grierson, a Canadian filmmaker and “propaganda official,” took several images of Hitler, including one with a high step, and “looped” them together to make it appear that Hitler had danced a “silly little jig.”

 


Adolf Hitler’s alleged dance. Germany. October 1940. LIFE.

 

 

Lukacs cites an account of the jig being shown in a Berlin movie theater in 1940, which suggests some version of the dance may have been real – “Were the Germans so stupid as to show the American version of the newsreel?” Lukacs wonders – but either way, Podwal says Levine was probably unaware that the jig was a hoax. Irrespective of the historicity of the dance, Levine incorporated it into the drawing, although he knew full well that few people were likely to recognize it. It often seems to me that Levine achieved something in his caricatures not unlike what James Joyce accomplished in his writings.

 

“David was in such a class by himself that over the last decade or so, he was to some degree, taken for granted. The New York Times failed to review his more recent Forum Gallery exhibitions. Museums would not give him exhibitions he more than merited,” says Podwal. “Nevertheless, his work will remain a mirror of our time – just like the drawings of Thomas Nast.”


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “David Levine, 1924 – 2009: A Satirist Who Loved His Species

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Captain Or Cohen
IDF Selects First Female Commander of Navy Ship
Latest Sections Stories
Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Schonfeld-logo1

This core idea of memory is very difficult to fully comprehend; however, it is essential.

Sometimes the most powerful countermove one can make when a person is screaming is to calmly say that her behavior is not helpful and then continue interacting with the rest of the family while ignoring the enraged person.

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall divide within you.”

Divorce from a vindictive, cruel spouse can be a lifelong nightmare when there are offspring.

There were many French Jews who jumped at the chance to shed their ancient identity and assimilate.

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”

Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]

The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.

Recently, Fort Lauderdale has been the focus of international news, and it has not been about the wonderful weather.

Rabbi Sacks held the position of chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years until September 2013.

The event included a dvar Torah by student Pesach Bixon, an overview of courses, information about student life and a student panel that answered frequently asked questions from a student perspective.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/david-levine-1924-%e2%80%93-2009-a-satirist-who-loved-his-species/2010/01/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: