December 17, 2014
Art, politics, angels, demons . . . and righteous dogs.

David Levine

Once, in public, I got to tell David some of the reasons why we hold him in such high esteem. I mentioned how his work combined many tasks at once and was masterly in all of them. That he, better than anyone in our times, could tell a larger story within the confines of a face. The turn of an eyelash (as in Nixon). The cogency of a metaphor, as in LBJ shedding crocodile tears (and the croc returning the favor). How moral focus and political courage combined in him. He didn’t respond really to any of this. He was very modest in his way; a hard working artist who understood the truth of our lives: that nothing matters but the relationship between you and the piece of paper. Any analysis is, at its worst, bullshit, and at best, a benign distraction because it never really catches the plasticity and dynamism of a living artist’s process. He knew what was important. The discoveries you make as an artist. The connections between the pictures and people. This was in him and in his work. His art was always about people, their relationships to each other and systems that could elevate or crush them. As a young person in the Depression and during the war he learned from his parents and his culture (now fading) that social responsiveness could be a genuine focus of someone’s life. And so maximum integration of art, observation of systems and humanity, found its home in Levine. And he demonstrated over and over again his brilliant synthesis. We have books of Gillray, Daumier, Nast, Grosz, Low, Mauldin and Levine which continually demonstrate mastery of this challenge. The work we do is in part the result of the conversations we all have with these geniuses all the time. And they are HERE. Alive, burning brilliantly. Always speaking from the place David Levine always was in life. Always in relationship, always connected, always integrated. And there he will be for all of us forever.

We Mourn Our Loss

Tonight my thoughts are with David, his family and the greater family of artists to whom he was the pater familias. The finest caricaturist of, in my view, the entire 20th century and a piece of this one. And a very warm, generous human being. I’ll have more to say soon. For tonight some images and ideas in David’s own words.

Three Kings

Of all the Santas of all time here are my top three, and the guys who drew them.

My favorite all time is Haddon “Sunny” Sundblom’s  Coca-Cola Santa.  He would be in print ads in all major mags all through my childhood, and, I discovered, way before that.  This Santa wasn’t just jolly, but in charge.  Like a CEO.  The very image of Big Cola-cum-America.  Rich, smart, benevolent. Oiy.  Anyway.  You felt if you asked for trains, you damn well would get trains.  And they would arrive on time.  BTW: The Quaker Oats man is Sunny’s too.

Next is Norman Rockwell.  Santa to him was yet another American myth he would put his stamp on.  This one is sweeter, more elfin, like the rest of his world.  Benign, warm, nurturing.  That’s the America he wanted. Wars were good wars.  People essentially strove for a Jeffersonian civil society, sublimating personal animus for greater communitarian and spiritual ends. His Santa is another piece of that Frank Capra, Aaron Copeland world.  Never saw a lump of coal in his life.

Tommy Nast is our Pop.  Our bloodiest and most successful caricaturist, he developed Santa Claus into the character we know.  First used in large emblematic cartoons in wartime (the Civil War) to entertain the troops in the pages of his Harper’s Weekly, his Santa survived into the more sedate and mercantile ‘80’s.  It didn’t take long for Santa to move out of the battlefield and into the boardrooms.

From all my toons to you and yours, a great holiday and new year. And Peace.

SB

Cab Rides


This was a busy weekend, but very rewarding.

On Saturday I got together with my pals Gail Levin and Richard O’Connor at Asterisk and drew Cab Calloway.  Gail is doing a doc on him for TV and asked me to paint him lifesize.  Not sure how this will end up on film, but I trust her completely.  I think that she is brilliant, so I never worry about her side of things. So here’s my Cab.  He’s now in their hands. I’ll post film as i get it.  The shot is by the great cinematographer Dewald Aukema.

Drawing Cab 2

On Thursday a group of us from the Society of Illustrators gathered at the VA hospital on 1st Ave and 23rd to sketch some of the patients.  All talented artists, lead by the very generous Joan Chiverton, who has been organizing these trips for a few years now.  Left to right are:  Mike Brennan (our host at the VA), Bob Smith, Victor Juhasz, Joan, me, Steve Gardner and Ed Murr.SI Artists at the VA

Victor Juhasz, one of my very favorite artists in the world (and a good friend) took this very seriously.  No goofy party pix here.  His portraits were probing without being insensitive.

VJ at the VA

Here’s one of mine.  Bruce was a very kind subject.  He didn’t have a hard time hearing that I thought he looked like Frank Zappa.  We both dig Zappa.  I’m grateful to Joan and the gang for the day there.  If the patients thought we were fun to have around that was great, but they did more for us, no question.  They have made enormous sacrifices for the US, regardless of the war and the policy behind it.  We owe them all a tremendous debt.  Here’s to a great holiday to all of them here and overseas.  And Peace in the New Year.

Drawing Bruce at the VA

Behold and Lo!

For months I have been telling my students and anyone who will listen that the coming Tablet will yield, for the first time, a well designed Web home for newspapers and magazines.  A place which will, at last, respect photography and art.  One of my students sent me this clip.  As the Next Thing for Journalism, it is my prayer for the New Year.