By Robert Beck
It was a little before 9:00 when I arrived at Fischer Bros. & Leslie, the butcher and deli on 72nd [between Broadway and West End Avenue]. One of the employees was cleaning the front window, inside and out. I parked my kit in front of the cold case and spent a few minutes deciding the best place to set up.
Lester Wasserman from Tip-Top had suggested Fischer’s as a place to paint, but it was closed the first time I stopped by. I went back and pitched the idea to the guy in charge, but he didn’t take to it and told me to call back later and talk to Paul. Paul Whitman couldn’t have been nicer. I told him what I wanted to do, and he was all for it, a great ally when the guys getting the meat ready—the ones wondering who this clown is blocking the freezer—all have nasty-looking knives and blood on their aprons.
Fischer’s is a step back into another era; not to a Disney caricature, but to a time of long-term relationships. They offer a product rather than dazzle you with marketing, which I find refreshing. The store feels spare but unmistakably genuine—a location scout’s dream.
A woman stood at the meat case and asked questions of a patient butcher while trays of chicken and red meat were being loaded onto the racks. Plates of food were shuttled to the window as they emerged from the kitchen. A man with a guitar on his back stopped to get something to take with him for lunch. Occasionally I would have to move my easel (a maneuver perfected over thirty years in the field) while someone looked for soup in the case. The doors opened with a suction noise and pulled themselves closed.
The sounds and aromas reminded me of the Amish butcher shop of my Pennsylvania youth. Every so often, the door to the meat locker at the other end of the room would open with a metallic cuh-jank of the hand lever and close with a solid chunk, briefly volunteering glimpses of large hunks of meat.
Paul Whitman never stopped moving. Behind the counter or on the phone, he was a blur. Paul went out the front door and came back three or four times while I painted, each time with a hesitation at my easel to tell me I was doing a nice job. When I was done, the biggest guy with a knife came over, smiled, and took a phone shot of the painting.
The Butchers, 12×16”, by Robert Beck, soon on W. 79th Street. Yes, he found a new studio/gallery! Details will follow.