For more than 60 years Sam Norkin has been drawing portraits of show business luminaries. His outstanding caricatures of performance artists form a history of the period he has covered. The New York Library for the Performing Arts is honoring him with a retrospective that includes 200 of his works under the title "Theater.Ink: The Art of Sam Norkin." It runs from Nov. 21, 2002 through January 18, 2003. Being familiar with Norkin's astonishing creativity and extensive output, I could attest in advance that this would be an exhibition that should prove exciting to theater lovers, as well as artists and those who appreciate art.

But seeing the show was a revelation. It is vast, and as one wanders through looking at the work in total, one not only gets an appreciation of Norkin's skill as a caricaturist. His general imagination is much in evidence. He gets inspired ideas for his approach to the various personalities he captures, which gives a special originality to his work. Some of his drawings are more accurate in their representations than others, but it is quite extraordinary the way he nails down so many celebrities so that they are instantly recognizable. There are also intriguing examples of painting that Norkin does, apart from his best known field.

In a talk before an aggregation of press Norkin made reference to his early past work as an "advance man" for shows running out of town before reaching New York. He said he was the first to begin supplying editors with art--his caricatures--so they could run advance pieces on the shows that were about to open.

The exhibit, which should be utterly fascinating for followers of the theater, constitutes a rare visual history of a lengthy period.

From 1940 to 1956, Norkin's illustrations graced the pages of The New York Herald Tribune. For 26 years after that his work was featured in the New York Daily News. His drawings have appeared in many newspapers throughout the country, as well as in leading magazines. He holds a Drama Desk award and has been honored by the League of New York Theaters and Producers and by the National Cartoonists Society.

Subjects appearing in Norkin's work, include such notables as Joan Sutherland and Rudolph Nureyev; jazz titans Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington; conductors Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini; violinist Isaac Stern; singers Bette Midler and Simon and Garfunkle; stars Zero Mostel, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, and Len Cariou. Many Broadway shows are featured in scenes that Norkin has depicted. The artist's work and experiences are also reprised in his recent book, "Sam Norkin: Drawings and Stories."

Admission to the exhibition is free. At the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. For Information phone 212-870-1630.

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