PHOTO: Herbert Mitgang



Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Man With the Sharpest Pen by David Margolick

Given all of the crevices, hooked or bulbous noses, receding hair lines, beady eyes, bulging guts, rodent teeth, gimpy legs, outsized tucheses, and small penises he inflicted on various people over the years, it’s hard to believe David Levine considered himself a humanist and a healer. But he did.

The very point of caricature, Levine told me, was to teach. He wanted whomever he drew—but particularly all those politicians and tyrants and scoundrels—to behold themselves anew, warts and all, and in Levine’s lexicon “all” encompassed the full panoply of blemishes, physical and characterological. After that, he hoped, they’d repent, or at least pick up a hint of humility. All those thousands of portraits Levine created for the New York Review of Books and others, then, weren’t only for fun. They were to heal the world.

His presence on my shoulder guides my decisions

My first meeting with David was in 1961 when I was 20 years old and in my last year at the School of Visual arts. Mr. Levine was teaching a drawing class. At that age my grandiose arrogance was a convenient substitute for minor skill. David asked me to challenge the stereotypes I had come to accept, and he did it with kindness, clarity and simple honesty, and with that demeanor he created a model for me for a lifetime. His insightful biting caricatures are no indication of how compassionately he treated and cared for the people in his life. That first meeting began my journey on a road that would be profoundly influenced by David. He made sure I had a scholarship to his class at to the Brooklyn Museum Art School. During that time we became friends and in the summers began a long tradition of going to Coney Island together to paint. The paintings I see of David’s are a special treasure to me and I have my own attempts with the identical view but for two feet one side or the other. He introduced me to the FAR Gallery where I had my first exhibit. David included me socially and invited me along on sketch or museum trips with his group of artist cronies. He and his close friend Aaron Shikler offered to cover my studio rent in New York City if I hosted a sketch class every Wednesday. When I left New York in the mid 70’s the group continued but my visits became harder to sustain. Now when my students ask where I studied I explain how I was transformed “back to the future” in a renaissance atelier. We both lived in Park Slope and David became an ever-increasing part of my life, he was instrumental in me renting an apartment in the home of his friend the sculpture Bruno Luccesi. With ongoing concerns about how to survive as an artist, he recommended me for a job at his friend Arnold Abramson’s scene painting shop. He had so many friends, just about every body he met. When my first son was born, exhausted after spending the night at the hospital, my first stop on the way home was at David’s house. He put me to sleep in the spare bedroom and had a meal prepared when I awoke.

I got a note from Matthew Levine and he speaks of the brotherhood of people that loved and were in some way adopted by David. Defining the relationship I enjoyed with David, there are no words that can even come close to understanding the debt of gratitude I have for this incredible man. His contribution to my life is so very deeply ingrained in the fabric of my being. His presence on my shoulder guides my decisions, and the love I have for him remains forever in my heart.

Bruce A. North

Posts by Steve Brodner on his blog

I thought you might want to read Steve Brodner's very nice post about David at

The comments section on his earlier post also has terrific reaction from many current caricaturists that speaks volumes of the huge influence David had had on artists of today, both aesthetically and personally. That is at

David Leopold
As a long time member of David's Painting Group, I have been been truly blessed. To have been the beneficiary of such wisdom, wit, and especially a wealth of straightforward aesthetic advice that has nourished me all these years has been a great honor to me. Specifically, he taught me how to look at Velazquez (who I'd struggled to understand for many fruitless years) in a far more sophisticated but simple way than I ever could've managed to find on my own. And his stressing of the importance of preserving line, even in media involving such amorphous forms as pastel and watercolor, has been an absolute key for me. But more generally, and more importantly, his humor and decency have made the Painting Group studio a joy to return to week after week. And his deep, yet deeply unpretentious appreciation of what is truly good in art, the human touch behind it, offered a rare gift in this age of fleeting technological pleasures. I will miss him greatly.

Thank you,

Geoffrey Atkin

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

wally said...

As his longtime friend, sometime co-conspirator, and perhaps the last 'student' David mentored, I'd like to express my condolences to David's family and friends. I had the unique pleasure to paint with David at Coney Island, to play tennis with him at 'the bubble,' to dine with him at Teresa's for several years, to visit 'His Museum' at what was formerly Chang's Restaurant, and to become a member of the fabled Painting Group. To me, David will always be the playful child who experimented with paint, unafraid of failure, and with words, meant to stun and provoke. He was, above all else, a humanist who believed in the dignity of the human creature and treated everyone he met with respect, even if he thought their views were moronic.

We will never see the likes of him again. I, for one, am just so thrilled to have known him.
Stephen Wilson

David Levine's passing is generating a tremendous outpouring of love, admiration, shock, sorrow and gratitude. This blog is for everyone to maintain a connection to him and to each other. Please send your posts to and we will do our best to keep up with them and to keep you informed of David Levine related developments, or post your comments to this thread.

This blog is maintained by his children. Look for more posts after we emerge from this delicate period.

His last moments were peaceful. While his last few years were tough and his last months tougher, he lived them with grace and humor and kept coming forward with ways of looking at life and art that only he could generate. He was working on a large Coney Island beach painting that was interrupted by the loss of his sight to macular degeneration. But he would sit in front of it for hours, finding new approaches in his mind, and this gave him endless pleasure. Even in the hospital, his eyes closed, dreaming, speech no longer available to him, he made elegant paint stroke movements with those gnarled hands of his. He was always an artist at play.