Master of Caricature: David Levine

David Levine is America’s foremost political and literary caricaturist. Although his signature linear style has been copied by more illustrators for more decades than any other cartoonist, no one has equaled his acerbity and wit. He’s had more direct hits on presidents and prelates than any other contemporary. Who could forget his Lyndon Johnson showing the scar of Vietnam (above) or Richard Nixon as Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny or Henry Kissinger’s relations with the world (bottom)?

But as David Margolick writes in Vanity Fair: The 81-year-old Levine’s “universe had grown darker and fuzzier.” New work appears much less frequently because “He could
no longer see very clearly without strong light and magnification, or
rely upon his hand: the lines that had always been his friends, the
spare, crisp ones that defined someone’s shape, and the elaborate
cross-hatchings that gave him soul, he could no longer control. His
ophthalmologist had put it bluntly. ‘Mr. Levine, you don’t look your
age,’ he said. ‘But your eyes do.’ His diagnosis: macular degeneration.
Medications and injections didn’t help. Levine worked on, but
laboriously. He abandoned pen and ink for pencil, which, as he puts it, ‘was more forgiving if I made a mistake.’ But the results were plain
enough. For the first time—except for those very few instances when it
had been too tart for the publication’s taste—the [New York Review of Books] rejected his work.” (Photo of Levine by Gasper Tringale, below.)

Levine’s presidential caricatures (including those of John McCain and Barack Obama) and selected paintings are on view at New York’s Forum Gallery until November 8.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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