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Schmeisser, Jörg Giselher (1942–2012)

by David Williams

Jorg Schmeisser, 1976

Jorg Schmeisser, 1976

ANU Archives, ANUA 225-1107

Canberra’s visual arts community mourns the death of Jörg Giselher Schmeisser, who died peacefully at home with his family on Friday morning, 1 June 2012.

A devoted, loving family man, fine artist, printmaker, wonderful teacher, generous colleague and friend will be greatly missed by his extended family, his students and many friends around the world.

Jörg was born in Stolp, Pomerania (now Poland), in 1942. In 1944 he and his family made a perilous journey to Germany. They settled in Hamburg where Jörg completed his schooling and went on to study as an art teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts (Hamburg, 1962–67). In 1968, he was awarded a scholarship for graduate studies at Kyoto City University of Arts in Japan to further his artwork and research into woodblock printing. In 1970, he met Keiko Amenomori, and in 1972 together they returned to Hamburg. Jörg had a teaching position at the Academy of Fine Arts, enabling regular participation in archaeological excavations as artist for the University of Missouri Expeditions in Israel and Greece.

Keiko and Jörg were married in Hamburg in December 1972.

In 1976 Jörg was invited to be a Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University Humanities Research Centre (HRC), where he received a warm welcome and conducted a successful workshop at the recently formed Canberra School of Art. This was followed, after his return to Germany, by a residency at Bezalel Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Jerusalem.

In 1978, Jörg was appointed Senior Lecturer and Head of the Printmaking Workshop at the Canberra School of Art. Maybe it was the HRC welcome, the well-resourced facilities and exciting potential of the Canberra School of Art in Australia’s national capital city that attracted Jörg to this position. Together with Keiko and their three-year old daughter Aya, they made the permanent move to Canberra, where their second daughter, Tae, was born. The family soon discovered the beauty of the southern coastal region and a place at Rosedale as an inspirational retreat.

Jörg brought with him a love of literature, philosophy and fine music together with his remarkable intaglio printmaking and drawing expertise, and highly developed interpersonal skills. These qualities and his experience made Jörg an outstanding teacher much loved by his students.

He was a significant contributor to the senior management of the school and with his sense of humour, compassion, constructive ideas and spirit of teamwork, his presence was greatly appreciated by all his colleagues. During his time as Head of Workshop, he played an important role in developing school curriculum and teaching policies. He was a strong advocate and mentor for his students, encouraging them to embrace all the arts, think laterally and travel abroad. His systematic work practice, commitment and attitude to his printmaking provided a professional role model.

As an artist-traveller, Jörg always formed networks and established strong connections during his numerous worldwide residencies and fellowships. Experiences in Japan, Ladakh, Angkor and Antarctica were the sources of his imagery, inspiration for his artwork and for his teaching. These travel experiences were particularly significant, resulting in major exhibitions seen nationally and internationally. Academic links with Kyoto Seika University Faculty of Fine Arts and Hangzhou’s Zheijiang Academy of Fine Arts resulted in the establishment of exchange opportunities for students and staff at the Canberra School of Art, which continue today.

A trip to Arnhem Land in 1978 sparked Jörg’s initiative for collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists. This idea was realised at the Canberra School of Art Printmaking Workshop and continued for more than a decade with the completion of editions and print portfolios. For these activities, Jörg mentored colleagues who continue this work with Indigenous communities elsewhere today. The 1996 touring exhibition, Groundwork, documented these prints done during the late 1970s and 1980s.

Editioning was a regular feature of the school’s workshop program, with students and staff producing a number of portfolios. They remain as examples of work produced at that time.

In the community outside the School of Art, Jörg was an active participant in the Canberra–Nara Sister City relationship and was always interested and supportive of Canberra’s access print studios, especially Studio One. Earlier this year, in the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery group exhibition The Legacy of Ruth Prowse, Jörg’s work highlighted the range of his artwork, his teaching successes and long association with Ruth Prowse at Gallery Huntly.

In 1997, Jörg resigned from the school and took up a Humanities Fellowship at Princeton University, USA. In 1998, he was awarded an Australian Antarctic Division Arts Fellowship for travel to Antarctica; and a selection of this work was included in the ANU Drill Hall Gallery mid-year exhibition Antarctica.

Jörg Schmeisser’s oeuvre is impressive. His images capture the essence of the many places he visited, often combining archaeological, architectural, plant-form and anatomical references in detail. Sometimes the images include diary texts confidently doubling as graphic elements embedded or overlaid in a personal narrative. Characteristic velvety blue-blacks, burnt orange-yellows and web-like hatching are hallmarks of many of his prints.

A return trip to Arnhem Land in 2010 associated with the Djalkiri project in which Jörg and three other distinguished artists collaborated with leading artists from Arnhem Land produced a series of editioned prints. This trip was the inspiration for Jörg’s exhibition, Blue Mud Bay & Other Journeys: Drawings and Etchings at the Australian Galleries in Melbourne, 10 October to 13 November 2011. The exhibition was shown earlier in Sydney. In the catalogue, Peter Haynes wrote:

Schmeisser’s pictorial vocabulary exploits intricate and meticulous detailing often overlaid onto, or interwoven through beautifully realised backgrounds depicting topography or buildings that populate the places visited. The details add a note of personal intervention, a diary of thoughts, events or reactions, visualised pictorially or graphically in the artist’s vehemently individual hand.

And what a hand it was!

During his distinguished professional career as an artist, Jörg Schmeisser participated in many important group exhibitions, including the International Print Biennales in Germany, Taiwan and Poland, and Print Triennials in Norway and Japan.

He had more than 130 solo exhibitions worldwide, his last being in Melbourne late last year. He is represented in major public and private collections in Australia including state and regional galleries, the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia. Overseas, his work can be seen in the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum, London, the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, the Staatliche Sammlungen, Dresden, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

He is survived by his wife, Keiko, daughters, Aya (and Dylan) and Tae (and Craig), grandchildren, Hannah, Emiko and Hugo, and his brother Dierk and niece Ulrike in Hamburg.

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Williams, 'Schmeisser, Jörg Giselher (1942–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/schmeisser-jorg-giselher-32973/text41091, accessed 29 January 2023.

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