Aesthetic theorist Elaine Scarry suggests in Dreaming by the Book that various wordsmiths (Thomas Hardy, Proust) have practiced the art of creating the image by layering one, less substantial, suggestion over another. Reductively: "there was a brick, low in the wall. A woman's skirt passed over it." The passing over of the fabric lends solidity to the brick.

Sharon Birzer's career takes a similarly unexpected path in image establishment: working with layers of paint to reinforce and underscore images on wallpaper was seen by some early critics as an unfashionable concern with the domestic. Her layering techniques take a different form today, but her concern now, as then, is in the exercise of capturing the process of seeing. Revision within Birzer's work is a part of the layering process: whether the paper she works on has been designed by her own or another's hand, every element is attended to and subjected to decisions about underscoring or obscuring its place in the next draft.

Like Proust, Birzer is somewhat haunted by her own precision and natural attention to detail: in the absence of a new world to illustrate for a waiting nineteenth century, there is danger of such an eye wasting; and so the form of her current series, 'Tis of Thee, is all the more interesting for its broad shapes and formal dissimilarity to her previous pieces. Her hand is satisfied with the work on the blocks. her sequential tendencies of vision are incorporated by the printing process. Just as Darwin and Mirriam were visionaries as well as illustrators, Birzer has been ever more concerned with the metaphorical implications and extensions of her work.

by Audrey Freudenberg

essay, Audrey Freudenberg