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Remembering David Levine, 83, illustrator and artist for New York Review of Books

December 29, 2009 | 12:47 pm

LevineFor more than four decades, David Levine created the gentle literary caricatures that have graced the pages of the New York Review of Books. The comic illustrations, which include memorable renderings of such figures as John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and William Shakespeare, have became a sort of trademark for the long-running intellectual publication.

Levine passed away today at age 83 in New York. He was suffering from prostate cancer and other illnesses, according to reports. On its website this morning, the NYRB paid tribute to its illustrator by quoting Updike: 

"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 was born in Brooklyn in 1926 and studied painting at Pratt Institute, the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and with Hans Hofmann, according to the NYRB.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Levine for an article in ARTnews magazine in April 2007 when Levine was one of several members of the Painting Group -- a New York collective of artists -- who were invited to create portraits of Sandra Day O'Connor, the former Supreme Court justice. 

"I disagree with her politics, but that's OK," Levine told me.

This was not the first time that Levine had created a portrait of the justice, who was appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan. He had also created a caricature of O'Connor for the NYRB.

"I mentioned this to her and said, 'I wish I could take it back," said Levine.

"She shot me a look as if to say, 'Yeah, right!'"

According to Levine's website, his artwork is part of the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Cleveland Museum, the National Portrait Collection, the National Portrait Gallery in Britain and the Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum in New York. 

Levine's many drawings for the NYRB are viewable on an online archive that includes 2,500 illustrations dating as far back as 1963. 

-- David Ng

Photo: A self-portrait by David Levine. Credit: David Levine / New York Review of Books