Stephen Kroninger
Arnie Charnick's Murals
The Eternal Puddle, 1983

On the lower E. Side, a world on a wall

By Tony Marcano © 1983 New York Daily News


 It’s a typical lower east side scene---patrons lining up outside of the St. Mark’s Theater, musicians perform for passers-by, winos ask for spare change.


 But there is something that is slightly out of the ordinary---this scene is not on the streets but on the wall.


 Taking his cue from everyday events in the area, artist Arnie Charnick has grabbed a slice of East Village life and transferred it onto a 10-by-12-foot mural outside the Velseka Coffee Shop at Ninth St. and Second Ave.


And if you happen to have a spare $3,000 and a large wall, you can take that slice of life home with you.


The mural, the second in a series of similar works by Charnick, is painted on three sections of sheet metal, which is easily disassembled and transferred anywhere in the world.”


After years of leading the life of a struggling artist---working as a short-order cook, painting signs, doing some free-lance work---Charnick got his break when Veselka owner Tom Birchard asked him to brighten up the bare, white wall on the Ninth St. side of the shop.


 Although he had no formal art training, Charnick found that he could earn money lettering signs. “As my lettering career developed, this guy (Birchard) hired me to paint a big, empty space on the side of the building.”


Soon after beginning his first work, Charnick became a neighborhood attraction. “I did the painting right on the street. The people learned about the art of painting.


 Although he was worried that “people would mark it up with graffiti," Charnick found that the painting, which depicted a typical day inside the Veselka as seen through one of the shop’s windows, was protected by residents.


 “All the people in the painting are real people from the neighborhood,” he said.


 The work, which took about one month to finish, stood outside the Veselka for a year, until Charnick “got bored with it.”


 “After a year, I said to Birchard: ‘Let’s change it.’ He asked what we were going to do with it.”


 The solution was to dismantle the work and offer it to an art lover with lots of space. “A guy from the neighborhood bought it and put it in his garage. The funds from the first painting financed the second one.”


 That second painting now hangs outside of the coffee shop, with the entire first painting reproduced as part of the second. The new work is a more expanded view of the area, with about 30 neighborhood regulars in the painting.


 “The first painting sold for $1,000,” Charnick said. “I’m looking for about $3,000 for this one---that involves me taking it down and reconstructing it anywhere.”


 He added that the sale of the second painting will finance a third Veselka work, with an added attraction.


 “I’ve earned the right to make my own painting out there now,” said Charnick, a 37 year old native of the Soundview section of the Bronx. “The third one will be three-dimensional---parts will be attached to the painting so that you can’t tell what’s real and what’s painted.”


 Charnick’s works have become so popular with restaurant patrons that he has done several murals inside the shop, depicting restaurant patrons or neighborhood residents.


 Other Charnick works can be seen inside Checkers, a barbecue restaurant on 34th St., off Third Ave. and in the lobby of a new structure on Water St. He has done about five publicly displayed works, along with several that are privately owned.

Luncheonette Life, 1982
photo: © 2005 Hubert J Steed

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