I was born as Werner Missbach. The last name can be written Mißbach
as well. It stems from a bush named "Mispel", growing on the banks of
creeks = "Bach". The name is known from Saxony, where my grandfather stems
from.To my surprise lots of Missbach can be found on the net, of course
in the US, too. Werner is an old Germanic name very common in the Middle
Ages, meaning wern=preserving + her=army, hence a "host who protects".
I never liked my names. In my teenies, I got a nick name, kind of an honour,
too: "Missi". When I became student, this name did not seem appropriate anymore.
Nobody knew me anyway, so I became Werner again. I made a friend, Werner
was his name, and we lived in a flat with 5 people. When the phone rang for
Werner, we had a little problem.
In our larger pal group, we read novels of Henry Miller describing his time
in Paris. They had a game, called each other Joe. "Hey, Joe, how are you
today?" "Oh, Joe, I'm a little tired." We tried this game for a couple of
days. That's how "Joe" stuck on me.
I liked that name. It is not at all common in Germany. When I got my thesis,
the professor wrote on his notes: "Subject: J. Missbach". He did not know
my name was Werner. He probably thought my name was Joseph or Johannes.
When I had my breakthrough as a painter, I looked for a signature. Joe looked
fine. Later I read "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce.
There is a statement about the relation of artist and work. He resorts to
Fine Arts to make his point. He visualizes the public in front of a painting,
the artist standing behind, cleaning his finger nails. This is to show that
work and artist are apart.
When I married, I dropped my last name and adopted the name of my wife.
Stürenburg is a Frisian name. My father-in-law
was born in Friesland. Nothing is known about the meaning. There is a family
of civil servants dating back to the 15th century, working as far as Russia
and America, but his family does not belong to them.
The Frisian people is quite peculiar. To this day they have very uncommon
first names like "Ommo", "Ubbo", "Tammo", the most remarkable being "Ee".
They did not have last names until Napoleon's time. The French then commanded
everybody to adopt a last name. It is assumed that the forbear of my
father-in-law adopted this name because of some connection to the family
of Stürenburg. Maybe he was a servant of that family.
These days I will be divorced from my wife after nearly 19 years of marriage.
She demands that I drop her name as a private person. It is all right with
her that I continue using her name for business purposes. I will act accordingly
and switch back to my birth name. I wonder what this name game means. Pretty
confusing, isn't it?
Joe always had something anonymous, it was used in this sense by Henry Miller.
The statement of James Joyce stresses the role a work of art has to play
in itself. Of course, there is a connection to the person of the artist.
But the work will communicate with the spectator regardless of the artist,
and this communication is the only important action for the art lover.
So Joe is meaningful as a signature, too. It signs the work as done by me
and signals the relative unimportance of my person. Also, Rembrandt and Vincent
are first names only, so this is a tradition, too. It is important for me
to recognize the tradition and give due credit.
Unfortunately, it is too short to be pronounced pleasantly. Joe ought to
have a last name, too. Rembrandt's last name is van Rijn, and Vincent's is
van Gogh. When I was in the IT business, my employees called me "Chef" (=
boss), but this was not it. I am no boss, actually. On the net I found that
"Joe Doe" is used to denote nobody in particular. So I thought this
is it. Joe's last name is obviously "Doe".
A good friend of mine, an old lady in California, told me that this is not
quite correct. "It sounds very peculiar to me as an american, because DOE
is usually associated with John as in John Doe and refers to an unknown often
a dead unknown or corpse." She then muses about her own experiences with
names: "I'm squirming a little as I consider it, as if my identity were at
risk. Who am I really? after seventy years you'd think I"d know but. . .
not today." So maybe the last name is just plain "Nobody".
As I decided on the way to not hide my doctoral degree, I witness being addressed
as Dr. Joe. Now we find that our Joe is nobody in particular, but academic.
For a painter, this is a rarity. I know of an Italian painter holding a doctoral
degree in geography. Danish Per Kirkeby is also a doctor in geography, if
I'm right. Living in academic times, it should become more common.
My Personal Info
I was born 1948, in a little village of 800 some 30 miles west from Hannover,
Germany ,as Werner Missbach. It was British zone then, WW II was past,
but not forgotten. 20 years later I spent one year in New Orleans, USA. (The
stewardess looked for Miss Bach when she distributed the tickets.) I came
back to Germany and still live here in a small town some 125 miles east of
Cologne, 60 miles west of Hannover. I married, changed name to Stürenburg,
the name of my wife, and raised two daughters, now 14 and 18 years old (1998).
My Professional History
Like most people, I liked to draw and paint as a child, but unlike most I
tried to get back to it at age 12, after having lost all my artistical innocence
like all children.
In 1973, at age 25, I knew I had many talents, but nobody could do my paintings.
This I should do in my life. Actually, I wrote my doctoral thesis in mathematics
at that time. Quite a different thing. And confusing, too, if you find out
that you ought to be a painter. So I turned to teaching math and art for
a while at high school.
Finally in 1982, with some help of my wife, I settled as full time painter.
In 1983, I had my very first exhibition in a middle sized museum
(Leopold-Hoesch-Museum Dueren, a city West of Cologne, East of Aachen), and
it was: Big success, a one man show.
I had radio and TV interviews, and it turned out that I was good at talking
life. So they gave me an opportunity to contribute as a radio art critic
for a couple of years. Among others, I talked about my colleague artists
Baselitz, Chia, Cuchi, Clemente, Droese.
During the eighties, I painted three
triptychs and the
The altar is a complex work with 4 views, starting with 2 panels, the second
view offering 4, the third six, and the fourth again 4 or rather 3 as the
two in the middle are joined, no need to split for the last view. One museum
director inspected this thing for a long time. He concluded that somebody
should write his thesis upon it.
At openings, I often held
as I can express myself and have something to say, using the opportunity
to rant about some of my experiences as a painter. They center around what
painting is (to me), what art means (to me), how this fits into currents
of our time (in my humble opinion).
My artistic work to this day comprises 700 numbers, mostly paintings. In
1986, I founded a computer business and operated it quite successfully. We
even developed a complex software, a business solution for lawyers.
In 1998, I decided to turn to the internet. This technology will revolutionize
the relation of artist and customer. Artists can expose everything they want
to the whole world. No need for space, galleries, museums. See
below. My first attempt was, of course, a
I did not exhibit until 1983. By then I had so many paintings, I could fill
an entire museum. And indeed, my first exhibition was a one man show in a
Since then, I had lots of smaller and major exhibitions, radio and TV interviews.
Several paintings are owned by museums.
On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Max Beckmann, I published my
Manifesto in honor of him, named after the art fair I participated in.
My teachers are my artistic ancestors. Rembrandt, Picasso, Beckmann. From
them I learnt most of what I know. I read some scholars, i.e. art historians,
and to this day I disagree with most of them.
Art is related to the public via collectors, gallerists and academically
trained officials. All of them still suffer from the great shock at the end
of the last century. All highly praised masters of that time were soon forgotten,
some mostly laughed at painters became famous and spawned Modern Art. People
are eager from this time on to be more modern than modern. You got to be
It is obvious that this strategy is nonsense. Read
Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe to have some fun on the New York scene after
World War II until the seventies. People sense that there is something wrong
and unhealthy about this attitude. There are lots of cartoons making fun
of Modern Art, too.
If you have some experience in life, you will notice that most truth lies
in the middle. There are always extremes, and they have to be, but they are
usually good to find out that it is no comfortable dwelling there.
Same with Modern Art. There are great achievements, comparable to the progress
during Renaissance. But there are lots of awkward, mediocre productions soon
to be forgotten in time. A major trait of Modern Art and Modern Times is
cynicism, loss of meaning. But whenever an epoch dies, healing powers emerge,
too, giving rise to new life. Look at the Renaissance, from the distance
of several centuries you can see many obvious insanities of the time.
I see the insanities of our time and I suffer with them, but I am interested
in the positive, personal, future oriented powers to grow with.
I firmly believe and feel that we live in great times with great possibilities
for the progress of humanity, culture and mankind. I strive to show from
my own experience how Fine Art can be used to
understand our culture,
enjoy the values of our heritage,
learn from great personalities for the development of our own, and
find our way in life.
I use my journals as instruments to
talk to you. I offer works of art in my
galleries to accompany and enrich your
life. My life would be poor if I erased the art from it.
If I had to decide what to save from a burning house, I know it would be
the art in it. Everything can be replaced but original Fine Art. The most
precious things people can produce.
Some of my speeches are translated:
On the meaning
of the woodcut
Speech Düren 01-23-1983,
opening exhibition Leopold-Hoesch Museum
the creative process
Speech Hürth 13.3.1983, Kreishaus, recorded live
and the 80ies
Article for the French-American literary journal Frank, Paris.
Good old Goethe once said, as I recall from somewhere, that any artist ought
to know his ancestors.
Well, I know mine. I obviously love Rembrandt more than Rubens, Picasso more
than Matisse, Beckmann more than Dix.
I own lots of books about Picasso and Beckmann and Rembrandt, and I have
read some more. They are always present in my mind.
Of course, there are other painters, too, that I know good. Who does not
know van Gogh these days? All the heroes of Modern Art, contemporaries, ancient
art, ethnic art, you name it.
Must be tens of thousands of pictures. I got my own slide collection of some
5,000, produced for my pupils to shown them something of value.
We live in great times. Goethe was very proud of some small engravings
reproducing great works of art. If I'm looking for something I can't find
in my books, I search the web.
You don't even have to go there physically to get whatever you want, and
they give you even more. They deliver closeups you would no get if you were
using only your eyes in front of the picture. And this is just a beginning.
When I was in Paris, visiting the Louvre, I missed Mona Lisa. No chance.
Big crowd. Nothing to be seen under these circumstances. No problem online.
Shipping and insurance costs for exhibitions rise sky high - not long, they
will ship only bits and bytes to compose most remarkable shows. No insurance
either. We will be able to see exhibitions online which have been closed
offline long before. They will stay with us like a catalog, but different,
rather like an exhibition.
Curious? See Mark Harden's Site. It's
already there. Rembrandt. Goya. Beckmann. A private endeavor. We live in
great times indeed.