Steve Brodner
December 2009
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 all time fave 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 me and all my toons to you and yours, a great holiday and new year. And Peace.
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 Studios 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.
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.  Left to right are:  Mike Brennan (our host at the VA), Bob Smith, Victor Juhasz, Joan, me, Steve Gardner and Ed Murr. Thanks to Joan for the pix.

Vic took this very seriously.  No goofy party pix here.  His portraits were probing AND sensitive.

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.
As promised, here are some pieces from the Juhasz sketchbook:
Here's his take on Bruce.

Various Faces:

Steve Gardner:

And someone who just wandered in:

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.

The Gold Standard
Glenn Beck has been recently caught with his hand in a pot of gold.  He has been shilling for a gold merchant on and off the commercial breaks of his show.  This makes a kind of sense.  Wouldn’t you want to buy gold from an expert?  Joel Cheatwood, Fox VP (is that great or what?) says he’s not a real spokesman.  But he was listed as such on the gold company’s website.  And of course, gold is important if you want to be a Conquistador.  Like in Florida, where he’s working hard to defeat Charlie Crist, seen here in a new piece for American Prospect, being Tea-boarded.
The text from Lewis Carroll:
"Have you guessed the riddle yet?", the Hatter said.  "No, I give it up.", Alice replied: "What's the answer?" "I haven't the slightest idea.", said the Hatter.  "Nor I", said the March Hare.  This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear . . .
"The last time she saw them they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot. "It's the stupidest tea party I ever was at in all my life."

Emergency Recall

For those who have purchased a Joe Lieberman Menorah this year, consumers are reporting the lights burn down to a fuse leading to an IED which will blow up your friggin’ house.  Happy Holidays.

Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Did you see this piece in the Times last week?  In their art review of the Lower East Side scene a show was mentioned by an artist named Barb Choit.  This show is based on prints by Nagel that are exposed to light so that they fade. And then she prints them again.  The critic Ken Johnson remarks that  she “presents reproductions of kitschy, ’80s-era posters by Patrick Nagel representing beautiful women in sexy lingerie. Ms. Choit buys the posters online and then partly fades them, using a tanning bed, lamps and other skin-darkening products. Then she translates them into ink-jet prints and attaches them to clear plastic panels, creating tension between the risible imagery and slick format and her own sly conceptualism.” I wonder if he knew he was making “risible” art? What the hell, he’s dead. Now his art has new life and achieving a Downtown success he couldn’t have dreamed of. 

Notice that color shift.
The color's really different in this one.
 I see this as valuable info for illustrators.  Here’s our chance at last at the big time.  Why wait for someone who may not have even seen a pencil turn your art by slightly damaging it into a work of heartbreaking genius. Beat them to it, I say.  I’m not wasting a moment.  I’ve taken a comprehensive survey of my work and put it down as a pad for Shoshana, my incontinent, cushinoid 13 year-old Shepherd.  In no time at all my watercolors will take on the patina of success . . . and not to mention the smell of money.  Mary Boone, break out that wine and cheese.  Take me away.
Got the Time?
Here’s the White House’s idea of the perfect Christmas present for Progressives. This image inspired by Barry Blitt’s latest NYr cover and Rep. John Conyers recent comments (below).  On Health Care, Financial Reform and Afghanistan President Obama has been very deferential to the Psycho-Right in this country.  When he’s wrong we have to say it. Here’s the story on Conyers from The Hill:

Conyers: ‘I’m getting tired of saving Obama’s can’

By Michael O’Brien 11/19/09 11:16 AM ET
President Barack Obama is “bowing down” to Republicans and corporate interests on health reform, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said Thursday.
Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a longtime advocate of single-payer healthcare, blasted the president for a perceived weakness in leadership on health reform.
“I’m getting tired of saving Obama’s can in the White House,” Conyers said on the liberal Bill Press radio show. “He only won by five votes in the House, and this bill wasn’t even anything to write home about.”
“The only way he could have got it through was that progressives held their nose,” Conyers added.
The veteran Michigan Democrat had teamed with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to push single-payer options in the health reform bill, a battle which Conyers said was far from over.
But he castigated Obama for trying to reach out to conservatives and other adversaries on health reform, accusing the president of doing a “disservice” to what he’d once stood for.
“Holding hands out and beer on Friday nights in the White House and bowing down to every nutty, right-wing proposal about healthcare and saying on occasion the public option isn’t all that important is doing a disservice to the Barack Obama that I first met, who was an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself,” he said.
Call to Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Tonight Pres. Obama lays out the escalation into Quicksandistan. 30,000 more young people and their families to die or get permanently broken.  
So today we ask why?
To stop a culture of war that has been ongoing there for 25 years?
To help our friend Karzai?
To kill the 100 Al Qaeda who live there (moving in and out of Pakistan)?
To prop up Obama’s brand with the military and its industrial and media complex?

This will cost $1 million per soldier, whom we will neglect later when mental health care is needed.  The family of Specialist Chancellor Keesling are still waiting for formal recognition of their son’s loss.  He gave his life for his country, like hundreds of others  . . . in suicide.
And one more thing.
How do we really feel about war, anyhow? After 40,000 year the evidence is in.  We like it. Here’s the top toy we will give this year to children to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Watch this and see how much fun war can be.  
Hang on for the 2 minute mark where the calm fellow says:
“On one of the single player levels you can play as a terrorist going through an airport terminal killing all the civilians.  Before you begin the single player level you are asked if you want to play any controversial levels (CONTROVERSIAL???).  You can skip a level. But I think since Infinity War wanted to make a game that was very realistic, including this part, it was definitely a thought-out decision.”
Later he says:
“Kill streaks are back and there are even more to love.  At 3 kills in a row you get a UAV. At 10 kills you get a Hedgehopper and at 25 kills in a row you get a tactical nuke which is pretty awesome.  That basically kills everyone who is alive.”
No moral signals go off in your head kid? By the way, in which country were you raised? Oh, yeah, right . . .  this one.

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