If, in his canon of music, Bruce Springsteen distills the ethos of the New Jersey experience, presenting the angst of youth and a panorama of the Jersey Shore, Tom Birkner (RC’94) has created the visual equivalent in his critically acclaimed art. His oil paintings are avidly collected for their evocation of New Jersey, although their ultimate appeal may reside in the paintings having a timeless, placeless allure. Whether in his serial portraits of “Jersey Girls” or in scenes of towns and their inhabitants, Birkner is always in a New Jersey state of mind.
“I like painting things that appear visually as people see the world. I find subjects for painting in vignettes and scenarios that occur by accident. They are far more interesting than my dreaming them up. Long ago, I stopped intellectually questioning stuff and became the painter I was supposed to be: a realist painter.” Birkner lets the moment suggest itself to him, as witnessed in Cheerleading (or Battle Cry). At a Scarlet Knights game in 2007, he was suddenly riveted by a blond-haired cheerleader being hoisted into the Thursday twilight, high above the rest, her back and leg arched in celebratory defiance, an arm thrust into the air to summon victory. He knew immediately he had to paint her.