Vanity Fair: Legendary Illustrator David Levine Losing Sight

levine101308 Vanity Fair: Legendary Illustrator David Levine Losing SightIn the November issue of Vanity Fair, David Margolick profiles the artist David Levine, whose pen and pencil work has been a cornerstone of The New York Review of Books for decades. Mr. Levine, who’s 82 years old, has begun to lose his sight from macular degeneration and, as Mr. Margolick reports, his role at the Review has been greatly diminished.

Writes Mr. Margolick:

Levine believes the Review has fired him. In fact, for the rest of the year he remains under contract with the publication, which pays him around $4,800 a month (down from the more than $12,000 he once earned), essentially for the use of his old drawings. Whether or not it is renewed, he receives neither health insurance nor a pension. His friends feel vehemently that the Review owes him something better than that. ‘He is the visual trademark of that magazine,’ said Byron Dobell, a former editor at Esquire and, for more than four decades, a member of the weekly painting group Levine still runs with the portraitist Aaron Shikler. ‘They fed off his drawings for years. Let’s say he goes completely blind They have no further obligations to him … ? It’s as if Disney decided, ‘Let’s throw Disney overboard. He’s an old man. We don’t need him.’

Mr. Margolick offers a picture of Mr. Levine’s enviable decades-long work routine: "Pretty much every other Thursday for the next 40 years, a messenger from the Review would drop off an envelope at the Heights Casino, on Montague Street, where Levine played tennis, a few blocks from his apartment. In it were photographs of the people he was to draw for the next issue, along with the articles about them. Always, Levine would read the pieces before setting pen to paper. … Each illustration took him a couple of hours. Tuesdays, the messenger would return to the Casino to pick up what he’d drawn."

The magazine’s Web site also presents a slideshow of Mr. Levine’s most iconic works.