The Digital Adventures

Theo Meier

Music: Vincent by Don Mclean


We know well the story. An artist struggles a lifetime, earning perhaps only a crust of bread, forever on the brink of starvation, but never giving up. Then one day, long after he has gone to meet his maker, his works are discovered. Vincent Van Gogh died in poverty, having sold only one painting in his lifetime, and yet at a Christie’s auction years after he died, one of his oils sold for US$80 million. Paul Gauguin was so poor when he died in the Marquesas in French Polynesia, the caretaker of the house where he lived didn’t have enough money to keep up his gravesite. Yet, look what his paintings sell for today. Unlike Van Gogh and Gauguin, Theo Meier did have marginal success with the sale of his paintings when he was alive, and he did live rather well in his traditional Thai house in Chiang Mai, but I am sure even Theo would be overwhelmed by how the price of his paintings has sky-rocketed, as have the works of many expat artists who lived on Bali in that era.

I have not written his book to dwell on the struggles of one man, nor is it a postmortem evaluation of his work, except where it touches upon his character. Not everyone who sees Theo’s paintings likes them. Some think his paintings are too simple, almost child-like; others take them to be complex; and there are those who think there is something extremely sensual about them. The Japanese thought this when they invaded the Dutch East Indies and, upon seeing his work, confiscated all of his paintings of nude women and shipped them, supposedly, back to Japan. Theo never forgave the Japanese.

Most striking about Theo’s paintings are the lively colors. They seem to leap out of the canvas. When I first saw a Theo painting, I was immediately reminded of Gauguin. I recall seeing my first Gauguin at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., long before I ever went to Tahiti. I did not particularity care for his style, his crudeness, nor his choice of colors, the reds and greens and purples. To me they clashed together in a kind of cacophony of colors. His shadows looked like anything but shadows. The Tahitians he painted appeared flat, and unanimated. Then I went to Tahiti and spent time on the island, and I became very fond of Gauguin’s work. He had captured the essence of the islands

and the people. In time this same thing happened to me with Theo’s work. To use the old cliché, his work grew upon me. It grew upon me because I came to better understand the Balinese and the Thais, and with Theo’s work I was later to realize that here was art presented like I had not seen it before. One can walk into a gallery with thousands of paintings, walk up to one, and say with conviction, “This is a Theo Meier!”

I am aware that some critics who read Painted in the Tropics may come down hard on me. This is oftentimes the case with biographies, but with Theo it is ever more so. The reason, Theo was a personal friend and he told me things I wouldn’t dare print were he alive. Yet, from a personal perspective, I feel he wanted them told. In my interviews with friends who knew him (many tape recordings) no two recollections are the same. For example, when Theo wanted to marry Yatdie, Prince Sandith, his old friend who invited him to come live in Thailand, told me he was the one who went to Hua Hin to negotiate the dowry to be paid to Yattlie’s family. In a taped interview, Hans Oplander claimed he was the one who went to Hua Him to meet with Yattlie’s family. There were other inconsistencies, like the name of Theo’s Thai wife. She has gone by many names but to simplify matters, I settled on the name Yattlie. In this and in many other instances, in the final analysis I had to make the decision what to print, with the hope that readers will understand. I can say, honestly, I was, in all cases, after the truth, even though truth often hurt.

So much said, this is the story of Theo Meier, the last of his kind. Truly, there can be no other like him, not in this generation or in generations to come.

Harold Stephens…

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