Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Brilliant Eye, Clouded

In a recent issue of Vanity Fair, David Margolick wrote about legendary caricaturist David Levine, whose iconic work has graced the pages of The New York Review of Books for decades. (At right is one of his takes on William James.) Levine has contributed to many other publications -- including covers for Time and Newsweek -- but he and the NYRB are inseparable in the minds of many readers. At 81, Levine's vision is deteriorating, and Margolick covers the parallel deterioration in not only the artist's skill but in his relationship with the publication he has helped to define. Along with a tinge of current sadness, the piece provides an entertaining overview of Levine's career:
However pejorative his caricatures of politicians were, he maintains that they were always designed to be constructive: by making the powerful funny-looking, he theorized, he might encourage some humility or self-awareness. (I asked him whether that had ever actually happened. He said it had not.) But Levine also knew when to stop. As he often cautions young illustrators, caricature fails when people are distorted beyond recognition. He allowed himself an exception with J. Edgar Hoover (he did him four times), whom he depicted once as an amoeba-like, cobwebbed blob. Then again, Hoover was the man who seized Levine’s passport.
You can read the whole thing here, and I recommend it. The magazine also posted a complementary slideshow of Levine's work, and the NYRB has many of his thousands of caricatures available in a wonderful, searchable gallery.

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