Joseph Hirsch was a painter, muralist, illustrator, and printmaker who was born and educated in Philadelphia. He attended the School of Industrial Art between 1928 and 1931, and in 1932, went to New York to study with George Luks.
He completed several murals in Philadelphia including "Football," "Integration," "Beginnings of Early Unionism," and "Adoption." As a pictorial war correspondent during World War II, Hirsch made about seventy-five paintings and drawings between 1943 and 1944 in the South Pacific, Africa, and Italy.
Hirsch once said that he wanted his work to reveal his beliefs but never turned to propaganda, as so many artists of his time. He did, however portray people as heroes in a deeply humanistic, positive manner, using an almost caricature-like exaggeration, especially in early canvasses such as "Two Men."
Although Social Realist painter often used specific themes, there wasn't a specific style that all the painters followed (except realism). In his mature period, the 1960's and 1970's (the time period of the paintings he did for the Bureau of Reclamation), Hirsch used a series of layered planes to compose the painting. Often, there are a series of two-dimensional zones in which the figures reside. Typically these planes are frontally oriented towards the viewer of the painting. Depth is suggested by layering of planes and the figures contained within, rather than through perspective. These paintings appear to be snapshots, capturing people in mid-action, not posing. While Hirsch's paintings are social commentary, he was careful that the viewer had to figure out the message. There are a multitude of readings, depending on the viewer.
With classic techniques, he explored prosaic subject matter ranging in theme from washing windows to leading invocations, sometimes with mocking overtones. He has also represented various generalized kinds of human action through the use of monumental human forms.