Robert Birmelin has long been painting highly personal, realist cityscapes, which he continues to explore through complex representational devices. Independent of photography, Birmelin constructs his detailed urban scenarios mentally. Placing himself in the role of pedestrian observer, he frames a street scene as a momentary perception: looking over people's shoulders, for example, glimpsing events through their hair, or, in dramatic works from the '80s, watching from between gargantuan fingers, through which we see streams of jostling figures. In the '90s, he turned to psychologically dynamic interiors, introducing Magritte-like tropes--upside-down passages or interpolations in scale.
For "Citizens," a 2006 series of 11 acrylic paintings and 15 drawings, Birmelin introduces more distant views of the city via a foreground intermediary figure, often in silhouette, which establishes a different kind of psychic remove. "Citizen of the City III--Breathing" could be Manhattan as seen from a ridge in Hoboken, with industrial edifices and expressways in the middle distance, then a band of water, and above, in the hazy distance, closely packed tall buildings. The head-and-shoulders silhouette is front and center, but barely, having mostly dissolved to become a mere effect within the landscape, a warping. "Citizens" has many riffs on this idea, in small 18-by-24-inch canvases and letter-size drawings. At Ross their installation emphasized Birmelin's fluent variations, like finger exercises that have become a fugue.