domingo, 19 de octubre de 2008

David Levine con problemas en su vision

David Levine in his Brooklyn Heights studio. Photograph by Gasper Tringale.Levine in Winter For four decades, David Levine?s acid-tipped portraits of everyone from Castro to Cheney gave The New York Review of Books its visual punch. Now that the greatest caricaturist of the late 20th century is going blind, is he owed more than a fond farewell? Throughout the year 2006, a great drama unfolded in The New York Review of Books. It didn?t take place in one of its famously erudite articles on politics and culture, nor in the characteristically splenetic exchanges on the letters page, nor in a highbrow personal ad in the back. Instead, it occurred graphically, in the caricatures of David Levine, which had graced the publication for the past 44 years. A New York Review of Books cover with a Levine illustration.Levine?s drawings?the latest crop around that time included Jimmy Carter, George Soros, and Colin Powell, along with the usual assortment of novelists, scientists, poets, potentates, and academics, dead and alive?still appeared. His customary irreverence was also intact: Vladimir Putin in a king?s robe; the lips of Justice Samuel Alito, fresh from his unenlightening confirmation hearings, zippered shut. But to anyone familiar with Levine, something was seriously off. The images were scarcer, cruder, more tentative. Even his signature, the casually confident ?DLevine? that always nestled cozily at the bottom, was different: suddenly, it was crabbed and erratic, even illegible. Sometimes it all but tumbled out of the frame. Few people may have noticed the change, because Levine?s older, classic drawings for the Review?there were more than 3,800 of them?still appeared in the magazine, not just amid the articles but in various promotions and inserts: Saul Bellow or Amelia Earhart, looking reproachful or entreating, urging readers to re-up. In Manhattan and Cambridge and Ann Arbor and Santa Monica, where calendars featuring Levine drawings still hung in their usual places, it was as if he?d never left. But when the older work was juxtaposed with the newer, sometimes across the page, the contrast was stark, and sobering.Simultaneously, two more dramas were under way. One was on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights, where Levine, now 81 years old, had long lived and worked. Gradually, his universe had grown darker and fuzzier. 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 Review rejected his work.Meanwhile, at the magazine, long the flagship of the American liberal intelligentsia, there was the third drama: what to do about David. First, it debated whether to run what he?d submitted. Then it stopped sending him assignments: it was in April 2007 when his last original drawing (of the novelist Howard Norman) appeared. The Review now primarily uses the work of another artist, whose style resembles Levine?s but displays none of its wit. Still, the masthead lists Levine as ?staff artist?; to both the Review?s co-founder and editor, Robert Silvers, and Rea Hederman, its owner and publisher, any suggestion to the contrary is preposterous. ?I think of him as someone who?s done marvelous things for us and might do some again,? Silvers says.But the ophthalmology texts don?t list anything called ?macular regeneration.? Theoretically, one of the electronic devices Levine has tried will help him see the contrast in the photographs from which he works?the ?scrap,? in artists? lingo?well enough to resume work, or, through practice, his pencil drawings will magically meet the Review?s standards. It seems unlikely, though. All parties concerned seem too timid or gentlemanly or Pollyanna-ish to acknowledge the obvious: that one of the most remarkable runs in the history of journalism and art is almost certainly over. In the course of it, more than anyone before him, Levine put together a facebook of human history, capturing everyone from Agnew and Albee to Zapata and Zola. Arguably, only Al Hirschfeld, the indomitable New York Times illustrator who worked almost to the very moment of his death, five years ago, at the age of 99, had so long a tenure or cast so lengthy a shadow, though his range was considerably narrower and his work as apolitical as Levine?s was politically charged. Some of Levine?s early subjects, such as writer Lillian Hellman, had begged to be spared his often savage strokes. But then came a total switch, and having Levine go at you certified your significance, no matter how he made you look. In nearly three decades in New York I?d never met or seen Levine, nor did I know very much about him. But after years of savoring his work every other week in the Review, I felt he was a friend. When that work faltered, then vanished altogether, I wondered, and worried, about him. Someone told me he was ill, but I neither heard nor read anything about it. Then, this past March, I attended a program honoring another journalistic iconoclast, the late I. F. Stone, and there was Levine. He?d done Stone, of course?at least three times. One version appeared on the cover of a collection of Stone?s articles. (?The hardest job with drawing Izzy is that he already looked like a caricature,? he says.) ?David Levine!? I gushed, with awe and, frankly, some relief, when we were introduced. ?Where have you been? What?s going on with you? I miss you! Are you all right?? A Lifetime?s WorkIf you want to know the sheer scope of Levine?s work, just dip into any of the shallow drawers in the antique architect?s file in his study, where his caricatures are arranged alphabetically. I pulled the C?s. There was Churchill: seen from the rear, identifiable only by his shape, his palette, and his cigar. Then, in no particular order: Cheney (Dick). Carmichael (Stokely). Le Carr頨John). Church (Frank). Carroll (Lewis). Castro (in several poses: as a baseball player in one, holding a sickle in another). Caesar and Caligula. Calhoun (John C.). Cunningham (Merce). Connolly (Cyril). Cuomo. Chirac. Von Clausewitz. Colette. Clifford (Clark). Chesterton. Cromwell. Chaucer. Clinton (Bill). Charles V. Califano (Joe). Cheever. Carswell (G. Harrold). Columbus. Child (Julia). Cullen (Countee). Clark (Ramsey). Chomsky. Chateaubriand. Callas. Curzon (Lord).Because Silvers and his longtime co-editor, the late Barbara Epstein, always wanted fresh images, Levine got to draw many people repeatedly, ever refining and updating. He was at it long enough to engrave wrinkles into W. H. Auden, follow Philip Roth?s retreating hairline, trace Susan Sontag going gray. Type in any name at the ?David Levine Gallery? on the Review?s Web site and you can assemble something sounding like an olde English Christmas carol. There are 66 Richard Nixons, 41 Lyndon Johnsons, 23 Ronald Reagans, 16 Sigmund Freuds, 14 Norman Mailers, 13 Charles de Gaulles, 12 Jimmy Carters, 11 Adolf Hitlers, 10 William Shakespeares, nine Jean-Paul Sartres, eight Bertrand Russells, seven Menachem Begins, six Ernest Hemingways, five Marcel Prousts, three Bernard Berensons, two Elvis Presleys, and one ? well, there are hundreds and hundreds of those. And lots of what ran in the Review isn?t even there, to say nothing of what appeared elsewhere.David Leopold, a curator who has spent the past three years cataloguing Levine?s work, estimates that only half of Levine?s caricatures were actually done for the Review. Thus far he?s found more than 1,000 done for Esquire, almost 100 for Time, 71 for The New Yorker, and lots of others for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, New York, and a host of oddball publications, such as Family Planning Perspective (for which he once drew Margaret Sanger using a diaphragm as a trampoline). The few people he apparently never got around to drawing for the Review, like Jacqueline Kennedy, he invariably did for others (in Jackie?s case, Harper?s). But so inextricably linked are Levine and the Review that, no matter where Levine appeared, it was the Review that always came to mind. The renowned French artist Honor頄aumier drew politicians whom no one later remembered. But the durability of those Levine depicted, plus the unique insight with which he drew them, guarantees the immortality of his works. ?Nobody will want to publish a biography of any of the people he?s done without including one of his pictures,? another prominent illustrator, Edward Sorel, predicts. ?People will want to reproduce his stuff forever.? Sometimes, life resembled a Levine drawing. The writer Richard Elman recalled once encountering Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Stephen Spender, Dwight Macdonald, and other literary luminaries at a party near Chicago. On hand was ?a whole collection of animated David Levine caricature faces, drinking, standing about, sitting on overstuffed sofas, and smearing chopped liver onto crackers,? he wrote. ?There was no face in that room that did not seem to recall a page out of the New York Review of Books.? Gallery

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