David Levine (born December 20, 1926) is an American artist and illustrator best known for his caricatures in The New York Review of Books. Jules Feiffer has called him “the greatest caricaturist of the last half of the 20th Century”.
Levine was born in Brooklyn, where his father ran a small clothing factory. He began to draw as a child. Levine studied painting at Pratt Institute, at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in 1946, and with Hans Hofmann. He initially hoped to be a full-time painter, but was often forced to subsist on illustration work from publications like Gasoline Retailer.
Nevertheless, he turned out a body of paintings, although many of these were destroyed in a fire in 1968. A job at Esquire in the early 1960s saw him develop his skills as a political illustrator.
Levine’s first work for The New York Review of Books appeared in 1963. Since then, he has drawn more than 3,800 pen-and-ink caricatures of famous writers, artists and politicians for the publication.
Only about half of Levine’s caricatures were created for the Review. Other work has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone Magazine, Sports Illustrated, New York Magazine, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The Nation, Playboy, and others. His work has been exhibited extensively in galleries and museums around the world, and several collections of his paintings and drawings have been published. John Updike, whom Levine has drawn many times wrote in the 1970s:
- Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked, a comic art ready to encapsulate the latest apparitions of publicity as well as those historical devils who haunt our unease. Levine is one of America’s assets. In a confusing time, he bears witness. In a shoddy time, he does good work.
According to Vanity Fair, “Levine put together a facebook of human history. …the durability of those Levine depicted, plus the unique insight with which he drew them, guarantees the immortality of his works”.
Levine’s work, taken as a whole, had a leftwing bent, and he claims still to be a Communist, although people of all political persuasions came in for the same acid treatment in Levine’s caricatures. Levine said that “by making the powerful funny-looking… he might encourage some humility or self-awareness”.
Several years ago, Levine was diagnosed with macular degeneration, an eye disease that leads to blindness. While the Review continues to run older work by Levine, no new work has appeared there since April 2007.
Levine lives in Brooklyn Heights.