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Werner Stürenburg, serious

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Werner Stürenburg, smiling

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Why Joe?
About names.

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.

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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).


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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 altar. 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 speeches, 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 homepage.

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My Exhibitions

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 museum:
Leopold-Hoesch-Museum, Dueren
Leopold-Hoesch-Museum Dueren

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 Basel Manifesto in honor of him, named after the art fair I participated in.

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My Experience

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 avantgarde.

It is obvious that this strategy is nonsense. Read "The 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.


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My Speeches

Some of my speeches are translated:

On the meaning of the woodcut
Speech Düren 01-23-1983,
opening exhibition Leopold-Hoesch Museum

On observing the creative process
Speech Hürth 13.3.1983, Kreishaus, recorded live

My painting and the 80ies
Article for the French-American literary journal Frank, Paris.

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My Favorites

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.

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