Wednesday, 9 January 2008

DAVID LEVINE: MUCH IS TAKEN, MUCH ABIDES



David Levine, whose caricatures adorned the New York Review of Books for more than 40 years, recently stepped down due to failing eyesight. “If I look at somebody’s face.... I can’t tell until the person gets within five feet of me who it is.”

After nearly 4,000 caricatures-- a solid body of work to make any artist proud-- Levine has not contributed a new drawing since he was diagnosed with macular degeneration.

But the 80 year old artist will not give up making pictures. He is trying to reinvent his style so he can carry on with poor eyesight. “It didn’t stop Degas [who had the same disease].... He went on to change his way of seeing. He just moved into a rhythm of color and bigger generalities in the way he saw things like hands or faces. … I’m open to that. I’m searching.”


Now that is an artist talking.

The ironic thing is, I was always less impressed with Levine's trademark caricatures than I was with the paintings he did on the side. I think these paintings from the 1970s are marvelous:












This work shows an entirely different set of strengths than Levine's drawing-- an excellent sense of color and composition, an understanding of value, an appreciation for subtle shading. This is not an artist who is limited to petite pen and ink sketches.

Finally, I admire Levine's response to misfortune.
Tennyson's famous poem, Ulysses, describes the ancient Greek hero's decision, at the end of a long life of epic battles with gods and men, to leave home and set out once more for adventure. He rousts his aging comrades to accompany him to see if
Some work of noble note may yet be done
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods
Ulysses admits that old age has robbed them of much, yet he glories in what still "abides":
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I salute David Levine for his resolution not to yield.