Posts Tagged ‘David Levine’


To appreciate a work of art, is it okay to like what you like, and the heck with the art critics and experts? Absolutely.

–Thomas Hoving


I came across this quote from the late Thomas Hoving and thought it would be a good opportunity to show off an illustration of him done by the late David Levine, the famed illustrator/artist whose distinct caricatures adorned the New York Review of Books for many years, along with many other publications. The original drawing now hangs in a corner of my studio, obtained from the estate of Thomas Buechner who was friend to both Levine and Hoving.

Hoving was primarily a museum director. Now that sounds pretty blasé on its surface but among his peers he was a rock star,writing bestselling books and ushering the Metropolitan Museum into a renaissance of sorts as its director. He was big personality in what is often a low key position.

His words above definitely ring true as good advice to anyone who has ever felt anxious about purchasing or even sharing their opinion on a piece of art. Feel free to buy and admire work that speaks to you, regardless of what critics might say. Art is based on an emotional elicitation and nobody can dictate how anyone should respond to any one piece of work. A critic may have a response to a work of art and write effusively about that work, perhaps even making cogent points about the validity of the work. But if I don’t feel that same emotional response, all the eloquence in the world telling me why I should like it cannot make me suddenly adore that work.

In short, we like what we like.

I’ve seen people in high powered positions, people who normally ooze confidence, suddenly turn to jelly when trying to decide whether they should buy a piece of art. Art is such a nebulous and subjective thing that many of these folks feel a bit lost and out of their depth. They are afraid of making a mistake and lose all trust in their own opinion. They forget that they should simply like what they like and trust that feeling.

So, if you see something you like sometime, don’t be shy about showing your admiration for it. Maybe that means purchasing it or maybe it’s just letting the artist know that it moves you somehow.

Both are appreciated by every artist I have ever known.

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GC Myers-The Sky Doesn't Pity 1995smI was looking around my studio, taking in some of the work hanging on the walls throughout the house.  There are pieces from other artists, including some notables such as David Levine and Ogden Pleissner, but most of it is older work of my own.  There are a few orphans, paintings that showed extensively but never found a home.  In some I see flaws that probably kept someone from taking it home but most just didn’t find that right person with which to connect.  Most of the other hanging work is work that I won’t part with, work that somehow has deeper meaning for me.  Work that just stays close.

One of these paintings is the one shown here, The Sky Doesn’t Pity, a smallish watercolor that’s a little over 4″ square.  It was painted in 1995 after I had started publicly showing my work for the first time at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY, not too far from my home.  The gallery has been what I consider my home gallery for 18 years now, hosting an annual solo show of my work for the last eleven years.  This year’s show, Islander, ends next Friday.

But when this piece was done I was still new there, still trying to find a voice and a style that I could call my own.  I had sold a few paintings and had received a lot of encouragement from showing the work at the gallery but was still not sure that this would lead anywhere.  I entered this painting in a regional competition at the Gmeiner Art Center in Wellsboro , a lovely rural village in northern Pennsylvania with beautiful Victorian homes and gas lamps running down Main Street.

It was the first competition I had ever entered and, having no expectations, was amazed when I was notified that this piece had taken one of the top prizes.  I believe it was a third but that didn’t matter to me.  Just the fact that the judges had seen something in it, had recognized the life in it, meant so much to me.  It gave me a tremendous sense of validation and confidence in moving ahead.  Just a fantastic boost that opened new avenues of possibility in my mind.

I still get that same sense even when I look at this little piece today, a feeling that would never let me get rid of this little guy.  I can’t tell you how many times I have glimpsed over at this painting and smiled a bit, knowing what it had given me all those years ago.


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I’ve written here before about the work of David Levine, the late artist best known for his wonderful caricatures of public figures and politicos that graced many magazines for several decades, writing once about a caricature of composer Richard Wagner and another time about a painting of a pig’s head .   Despite his fame as a pen-and-ink caricaturist,  Levine was also a fabulous painter, executing  many works beautifully in oil and watercolor.  Though not as famous as his caricature work, his work is very seriously collected and respected.  A series of pieces he painted depicting the landscapes and people of Coney Island is among his best work and one of my favorites.

I particularly love his images of the Thunderbolt roller coaster of Coney Island.  There’s a monumental quality in the way Levine depicts the coaster, it’s skeletal framework towering above the boardwalk like the remnants of a long gone and enormous dinosaur.  In fact, he shows the coaster in varying states of decay before its demolition in 2000.  I still remember vividly riding the fabled Cyclone at Coney Island with my Dad and feeling that same sense of awe that I feel in these pieces.  I think that Levine understood that child’s sense of awe and I think that might be why he turned to Coney Island again and again as a subject.  There is a real sense of  affection in this work which I think enhances its power, inspiring the same in the viewer. 

You can see more of Levine’s  paintings, including the Coney Island series,  at a site that  represents his work, D. Levine Ink.  Though there only a small handful of his original paintings available on the market, they still make his work available through limited-edition prints.  Just plain good stuff.

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There are a couple of new paintings that have been added to the group of work I have hanging in my studio.  The two paintings could not be more different yet both have meaning and inspiration for me.  The first is the oil painting shown here, Pig’s Head from David Levine

The late Levine was the celebrated caricaturist whose work was a staple of  Esquire Magazine, the New York Review of Books and other publications over his illustrious career.  I wrote about him a few weeks back in a post about a caricature of Richard Wagner of his that also hangs in the studio.  He was also an easel painter and watercolorist of great renown, particularly his works depicting Coney Island and its people.  He was a really marvelous painter.  This piece was obtained from the estate of the late Thomas Buechner, who was a friend as well as a colleague of Levine, having painted with him and curated exhibitions of his work.

At first, I thought the piece was a bit macabre.  I mean,  it’s a pig’s head on butcher’s paper.   But the more I looked at this painting the more I came to see it in terms of color and form, taking in the light and shadows and the contrasts of color.  I see it as an expression of paint now and am constantly amazed by it when I turn to it from my painting table or desk.  It has real presence on the wall and is a beautiful piece of painting.  I am really proud to hang it with my work and find inspiration in it.

The other painting that graces my studio is from an artist much less accomplished at this point in her young life.  It is an interpretation of my Red Tree done by my friend Olivia from Illinois.  Olivia is a nine year old whose father recently contacted me, telling me how much he and his daughter enjoyed my work online.  I sent them a small print in appreciation and Olivia responded with the wonderful watercolor shown here.  She also sent a thank you that included a drawn self-portrait that I really like a lot.  Nice, strong lines.  Confident.  I can’t tell you how much this gesture from a young artist I may never meet means to me.  Just knowing that she has found something in my work in which she finds inspiration of some sort is gratifying enough for me.

So, there they are, two paintings done by two artists, one whose career is finished and another whose career, in whatever field she may someday choose, has yet to begin.  One is immensely accomplished whose work graces museums and great collections,  and the other just learning.  Yet both hang side-by-side,  both equally filling me with great inspiration and hope.  I can’t thank David Levine but I can send out my thanks and best wishes to my friend Olivia.

Thank you, Olivia, for your kind gift.  You made my day!  Keep up the good work…

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This is a caricature of famed German composer Richard Wagner drawn by the great David Levine.  It was one of the  many,many caricatures that he created in an illustrious career for the New York Review of Books and other major magazines.  Levine was considered the king of caricature and, according to John Updike, was “one of America’s assets.”

I recently obtained this from the West End Gallery from the personal collection of  Thomas Buechner, the late painter/museum director/writer  who had painted with Levine for decades as part of the renowned Painting Group in NYC  (the subject of an HBO documentary in 2007 about the group’s 25 member’s simultaneous portrait of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who sat for them) and had written a book on Levine’s work. 

I really like this piece a lot and like the connection it has to Levine and Buechner’s relationship.  I also know that Buechner was a huge fan of Wagner’s work and had undertaken the illustration of Wagner’s Das Rheingold in 1988.  His work was translated into glass and was subsequently displayed at the Metropolitan Opera when they presented the Wagner epic.  I am excited about the prospect of having such a piece with me in the studio and hope it brings even a small bit of inspiration.

You’re probably all most familiar with Wagner through the use of his music in populkar culture such as it’s use in the film Apocalypse Now where it was the soundtrack for the calvary’s helicopter attack.  My favorite use of his music is, of course, as the inspiration for the Bugs Bunny classic, What’s Opera, Doc?   But to show the music in its natural environment, here’s Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphonic Orchestra with a little taste.

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