Hirshfield was born in Poland, but emigrated to the United States at the age of eighteen. During the early part of his life he ran a successful woman's clothing business with his brother but had to retire due to ill health.
He received no formal art training and was entirely self- taught. He began to paint in 1937 and a gallery owner, Sidney Janis, who had a great interest in self-taught artists agreed to exhibit his work. His painting found favour in surrealist circles and in 1943 he received a one-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
Hirshfield worked laboriously to cover every inch of his canvases with minutely rendered patterns that created pulsing compositions, typically featuring animals or women. In an approach that reflected his former occupation, he transferred a basic, linear design to canvas, filling it in with textures reminiscent of tweeds or knits and lavishing attention on the depiction of draperies, upholstery, and clothing. This ornamental sensibility recalls the intricate filigree of traditional Jewish paper cutting and of Islamic decorative arts. Hirshfield repeated motifs and often employed symmetry, lending his paintings a medieval mood reminiscent of manuscript illumination.
He died in Brooklyn in 1946.