Updated: Oct 29, 2019
The signed lithograph hanging in the vaulted living room contains an artful reference to its owner, power lawyer Arnie Levine. It’s a scene of screeching red tire tracks, a flattened orange peel and the distance between New York and Tampa: 1188 miles, created by one of America’s foremost pop artist, Jim Rosenquist. Arnie and wife, Gail, collect Rosenquist, Dines, Warhols, and Rauschenburgs the way other people collect wine. But growing up in working-class Brooklyn, Arnie didn’t know a Degas from a De Kooning. Times change.
It’s 1971 and Arnie and Gail are early Rosenquist friends and collectors. One rainy night as Rosenquist drives his family home, they’re hit broadside, seriously injuring Jim and leaving his wife and 7 year old son each in a coma. Divorce ensues, and Jim hires Arnie to represent him. Then, and I couldn’t make this up, Arnie sues Jim on behalf of the wife and son for the accident! Those red tire tracks are a haunting expression of the event.
Don’t think Arnie’s embarrassed by that story; he’s not. Think of a velvet hammer; a real life model for “The most interesting man in the world”.Charm, measured by the metric ton and a backbone like a steel I-beam. He has the resume to prove it. Read on.
Decades ago, fiercely sensitive to racism, he represents a black Highway Patrolman arrested on trumped up charges, telling Gail: “If I lose this one I’m hanging up my shingle.” He won.
In 1973, in private practice as a defense lawyer, he was so outraged at the ghastly murder of an 11 year old boy, he lobbied to be appointed to prosecute the killer. He won.
Then there was the son who killed his parents. Arnie represented the kid, saying, “how could you convict an orphan?” He lost.
Representing the Bucs, he told the opposing side, in a manner so cool it wouldn’t melt butter: “We’re going to reach an agreement, or you’ll never attend another Buc’s game again.” Opposing counsel heaved hot coffee in Arnie’s face. They settled.
These are the battle scars of someone who insists nothing scares him, nothing makes him cry. And, that’s part of the mystique: fearless, brainy, confident, disarmingly charming; it’s what drew a 20 year old beauty, Gail Levine, to marry him 6 decades ago. (Yes, Levine is her
Also a child of New York, Gail, though, was immersed in the art-fertile museums and galleries of the city. It clearly bore fruit.
Arnie and Gail met in Miami, moved to Tampa, and eventually bought a modest ranch house on a sprawling open bay lot where they raised their four children.
And Arnie discovered art. “Graphicstudio” opened at USF, lost its funding, so Gail, and Arnie offered financial support until the studio re-opened. Graphic studio is a magnet for internationally known pop artists to create and publish limited editions of their work.
Knowing of the Levine’s cutting edge collection I always imagined the elegantly expanded, rose-embraced, storybook front of their home was a mere façade for a sterile, white gallery beyond. I was wrong.
The art actually takes a back seat to the water views, the exquisite attention to architectural details, and Gail’s professional decorator’s eye for inviting, eclectic interiors: A classical bookcase littered with dashes of modern art, delicate Regency chairs guarded by sentries of pop art, a French chair nestled near a giant Jim Dine pop “heart”. It’s a perfect stage for entertaining 200 by the Bay, or two for dinner in the bay-windowed kitchen.
And, at the end of the day, this is a story about those two people: Arnie and Gail, the tough divorce/criminal lawyer whose peers have had multiple marriages, sitting at the kitchen table with his bride of more than sixty years. You gotta have art!