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Jack Levine

 (1915 - 2010)
Jack Levine was active/lived in New York, Massachusetts.  Jack Levine is known for mod genre, social satire, caricature.

Jack Levine

    leh-VEEN  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Jack Levine
Born and raised in the south end of Boston, Jack Levine created social satirical pieces exposing the foibles and venals sins of mobsters and politicians, underworld characters whose actions are obviously insincere. He also satirized the middle class and created paintings of Biblical subjects.

He enrolled in art classes at the Museum Fine Arts School of Boston and came under the influence of Dr. Denman Ross of Harvard University who, recognizing talent, gave him free art lessons. Levine was especially interested in the Old Masters at the Fogg Museum at Harvard. In 1935, he became a W.P.A. artist, using his experience growing up in a lower class neighborhood in his subject matter.

He developed a modern Social Realism while borrowing from the techniques of Rembrandt and El Greco, something he calls "Old Master Pudding." He also learned methods from satirists Honore Daumier, Francisco Goya, and George Grosz.

Levine's technique was to apply slashing strokes of color in thin layers of oil and then glaze, making his surfaces sparkle. His lampoons of rich people were especially suited to this method because their skin glitters and seems to corrode with light.

Memberships include the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Art"
----------------------------------------------------------------------The following is submitted by Cornelia Seckel, publisher "Art Times"

Profile on Jack Levine

ART TIMES November 1985

THERE IS TOUGHNESS about artist Jack Levine that makes itself felt almost immediately. A few minutes early for my interview, I arrived at his studio address in Greenwich Village where he was standing on the sidewalk watching some workmen. As I passed him, I felt his eyes appraising me and, when I entered the door and reached for his bell, he said, "I guess you're looking for me." I turned and looked more closely at the lean body, the set mouth, and felt my own response to his grip as we shook hands in the hallway. I realized that I didn't recognize him in the street because I was expecting someone older, someone different. He took the four flights of stairs up to his studio without a break in stride; certainly not like a man who has reached his 70th year. While still climbing the fourth flight of steps, the heavy odor of oils filled my nostrils and, when we entered his studio and I was offered a seat, I was conscious, as only men can be, that this was his turf and that I was there only for as long as I recognized this.

The toughness is also in Levine's speech patterns and in his readiness to say exactly what he feels. A native-born Bostonian who is obviously very literate and articulate, Levine still bears the imprint of the kid from the wrong side of the tracks; although he says it with impeccable diction, he finds no difficulty in categorically stating that he doesn't like "sissies," men with "bangs" or his dismissing the painting of watercolors as work for "kids." Were it just an affectation, all of this would, of course, be intolerable but it is not and Jack Levine's toughness is at the very heart of the man and of his life's work.

Levine's pronouncements on almost everything from abstract art to effeminate males are not idle barbs delivered for the sake of simple shock or discomfort. Far from a persona created for the amusement of his audience, Levine is sincerely indignant in the face of what he deems offensive and his candid remarks are not the flippant toss-offs of a disgruntled misanthrope. His indignation is a moral one and is straight from the stiff-necked patriarchs and tough-minded prophets who grew up in and were tempered by the harsh deserts of Israel. As with those unsilenceable prophets of yesteryear, Levine's comments upon his fellow man are delivered from an unshakeable courage of conviction as to what constitutes a true man in the eyes of God. This has precious little to do with "religion" and everything to do with a manly code of ethics.

All this is evident to anyone familiar with Levine's art. He has never shrunk from telling it "like it is." The politician, the crooked cop, the gangster, the stuffed shirt and the phony have all been shown for what they were creatures lacking any semblance of moral fiber. Even when at risk of displeasing the very public for which he paints, Levine ruthlessly exposes the corrupt, the contemptible and the cosmetic. His role as a social satirist, long familiar, need not be dwelt upon here. What is at issue is that Levine, as moral thermometer of his fellow man is not merely a naysayer, not simply a bitter old man who delights in ridiculing others. His righteousness does flow from those thundering prophets of old and, as with these true moralists, had as its concomitants the equally important elements of love of humanity and of its potentials.

Levine's "desert" was the immigrant tenements of Boston's South End. He reached both manhood and recognition as an artist before he was sixteen. He was physically tough because he had to be tough. Proud to be a "Litvak," Levine has rarely swerved from his sense of himself as a man and as an artist who has "something to say." Not even the fact that he has been a "New Yorker" since his marriage to artist Ruth Gikow forty years ago has altered his view of himself as a "Bostonian." And, in spite of the efforts of Ruth to have him appear as a Boston gentleman, he has managed to retain his South End, son of Lithuanian immigrants, street-urchin roots.

If the Patriarchs of biblical times are Levine's spiritual ancestors, we must look to men like Rembrandt, Goya, and Daumier for his artistic forebears. As did they, Levine never tired of the family of man. From the beginning, he was a figurative painter and nothing not even the onslaught of Abstract Expressionism could make him deviate from his course of depicting the human form. Not even the fact that he found his fellow man to be often petty, paltry, and prurient. Levine's essential love of man is evident in his life's work he never abandoned them for the sake of "art."

When not satirizing them in his relentless caricatures, Levine's ability to capture the profoundest psychology written in the human physiognomy is breath taking indeed; it is even evident in the caricatures. Paintings such as "The Blue Ribbon," "Susan," and "Rabbit in White" or etchings such as "Sacrifice of Isaac" and the lithograph "Shammai" clearly show Levine's debt to and love of Rembrandt but, more importantly, his debt to and love of humanity. These works show humans at their best; full-souled in their self-absorption, their anguish, their happiness. They speak to the very heart of those not blinded by greed, by lust or by self-aggrandizement.
As with any humanist worthy of the title, Jack Levine does not spare himself the brunt of his penetrating vision. An especially revealing work is his "Self-Portrait at Westchester Party." An ungainly Jack Levine is depicted, glass in hand, doing an inelegant dance step for the amusement of a bevy of female partygoers. It is quite obviously a picture of a man more at home in his studio in front of his easel.

At seventy, he still has not let up on human foibles whether his or others'. During our four-hour interchange at his studio and while we walked the streets of the West Village, his sardonic comments were as often directed at himself as to the world which he feels has somehow passed him by. Deeply saddened by the death of his wife of thirty-seven years, he has sorely felt the lack of Ruth Gikow's stabilizing influence over the past three years. He covers the hurt by making gibes at his "eligible bachelorhood." He also covers it by continuing to paint. And continuing to paint subjects which reveal man in all his frailty as well as in his glory.

On his easel is a huge canvas in progress he handed me an 8 x 10 study from which he was working. On the right is Saul, crowned, white-haired, shrunken in age, a face contorted in Lear-like fury, his left hand grasping at his spear, forcibly held down in his seat by a brutal and hulking man. On the left, David, a boy, round-faced, innocent, a lute in his hand, facing the contained rage of Saul. The temple is seen in the background through an arched wall. In spite of all Saul's kingly accouterments, it is clearly the wide-eyed boy who has all the power, all the promise of inheriting the mighty temple in the distance. As only Jack Levine can, with his bold strokes, thickly impastoed oils, rich colors and oddly blurred outlines, he tells the story in his painting. Then he clinches it. Bluntly. With a jabbing motion of his thumb over his shoulder, he points out Saul and says, "That's me." I'd want to strangle that kid myself."

It's true that David was anointed and Jack Levine feels that somehow he missed out on that blessing. But Jack Levine was never an ineffectual Saul held down by forces stronger than himself. His glaring eyes with their penetrating looks, his set jaw and ramrod-straight back give him away too readily. Jack Levine is a Nathan who never tires of saying, "Thou art the man!"
Jack Levine was born on February 3, 1915, the youngest of eight children, in the south end of Boston, Massachusetts. His parents encouraged his early attempts at drawing the drunks, prostitutes, politicians and policemen in the squalid area in which they lived. When he was eight they moved to a better section of Boston and his parents sent him to classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where he spent hours studying the old masters. Harold Zimmerman was one of his teachers and Denman Ross at Harvard also gave him instruction, free of charge. At the age of twenty, like so many hundreds of artists at the time, he joined the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. After an uneventful tour of duty during World War II he settled in New York City where he met and married Ruth Gikow who was also an artist. They had one daughter, Susanna; she grew up to follow her parents in the art field.

With Ben Shahn, Levine dominated the "Proletarian" school of painting fashionable in the late 1930s. He was especially interested in the Old Masters at the Fogg Museum at Harvard. He used his genius for caricature and opulent colors like a jolting left hook to attack what he considered the evils of society. Unfortunately, his iconoclastic vision of American life also earned him a subpoena from the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee. Stung by the Communist witch hunt and eclipsed by the rise of abstract expressionism, Levine's star dimmed for several decades. In time he became a little more mellow, but remained the curmudgeon.

He developed a modern Social Realism while borrowing from the techniques of Rembrandt and El Greco, something he called "Old Master Pudding." He also learned methods from satirists Honore Daumier, Francisco Goya and George Grosz. During the 1940s, Levine's work took a different turn, generally attributed to his father's death in 1939. He turned to the past, creating a series, "Hebrew Kings and Sages", a beautiful memorial from son to father. The series reveals another side of Levine - gentle, contemplative and reverent.

Levine's technique was to apply slashing strokes of color in thin layers of oil and then glaze, making his surfaces sparkle. His lampoons of rich people were especially suited to this method because their skin glitters and seems to corrode with light.

Raphael Soyer, who sketched his friends and fellow painters, remembered Levine as tall, quiet and pale, an intense brooding man with a narrow face and mobile features. His most striking feature, wrote Soyer, was his glasses:, heavy-rimmed with thick lenses, through which blue eyes peered.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Time Magazine, October 18, 1954
M. Therese Southgate, MD in the Journal of the American Medical Association, July 26, 1995; The Curmudgeon and His Art by Ruth Mason in the Jewish Monthly, October, 1990
Hannah Grad Goodman in Hadassah Magazine, October, 1978
From the internet,

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Jack Levine
Jack Levine died on November 8, 2010 at his home in New York City. 

Edan Hughes, author of the book "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
San Francisco Chronicle, 11-12-2010

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Jack Levine

Born:  1915 - Boston, Massachusetts
Died:   2010 - New York City
Known for:  mod genre, social satire, caricature