Robert Birmelin, born in Newark, New Jersey in 1933, is well known for his paintings capturing the drama found in the movement and tensions of the urban crowd in the gritty New York of the 1970s and 80s. In the 1990s he focused on memory and our often contradictory interpretations of past events. To do so he has sought pictorial structures to contain those restless contradictions in a series of reversible compositions, having alternate but no completely stable orientation. More recently his work has reflected on working class experience and on the problematic character of social upheavals, and attempted revolutions. Drawing from life, memory and imagination has always been central to his artistic process.
Birmelin studied at the Cooper Union Art School (1951-1954), and Yale University School of Art (1954-1956 and 1959-1960). He received a Fulbright Grant to the Slade School of the University of London (1960-61), followed by a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome (1961-64). His work has been seen in 55 one-person exhibitions in the USA and internationally, (from the first at The Stable Gallery in New York in 1960 to the most recent at the Luise Ross Gallery in New York in 2016). His exhibitions include retrospectives, at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia (2003), the Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, New Jersey (1997), and the Jaffe-Friede Gallery at Dartmouth College (1999). He has also participated in many group exhibitions in the United States and Europe.
Birmelin’s works are represented in 50 public and university museum collections, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. He has received awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the National Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation, as well as four grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.