Harold Stephens


July 2013





Painted In The Tropics

Painted In The Tropics, the untold story of an artist.

To say he was one of the flamboyant characters of Bangkok and Chiang Mai would be putting it mildly. He was more than life! He was a Swiss artist who had spent 22 years on Bali and the last 20 years of his life in Chiang Mail where he lived in a grand, old Thai house with his Thai wife, Yattlie. His passing cannot be forgotten; his paintings tell his story. How many times have you heard it said, or said it yourself “I wish I would have known. I would have bought one.” Yes, you could have bought one for a pittance, and now his paintings sell for up to and over a hundred thousand dollars at Christies auction houses in Asia and Europe.

His name is Theo Meier.

Theo was one of the most remarkable men who had lived out his adult life in Tahiti and islands and in Southeast Asia. We call him an artist, a painter, but he was more than that. He was a bon vivant, an epicure to the soul, who enjoyed life to its fullest and who made everyone around him feel the same. Put him in the dining car on the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and he soon took over the car, with conductors and waiters as well as passengers joining in the merry making. His shouts and cheers, with his glass of Mekong-and-soda held high, and his shouts “salute,” could be heard throughout all the cars. No one slept when Theo was aboard.

He was truly a man of the arts. When it came to cooking, he excelled; when it came to music, even complicated Balinese gamelan music, he knew it well and wrote a book about it; he knew his spices, herbs, medicine, and his women. Indeed his women. The paintings of his woman, mostly nudes, hang in art galleries and museums and in private collections around the world.

Theo lived high, with prince and princess of Thailand and heads-of-state of Indonesia, and at his parties you might find his tuktuk driver and a shopkeeper from Chiang Mai. Madam Banyen could have been one of them.

But there’s more. He was an adventurer. He lived on a remote island in the Tahitian group where Paul Gauguin lived–some say he followed in the footsteps of Gauguin but that is not so–and he walked across China with an easel strapped to his back. And he lived with cannibals in the New Hebrides. Real cannibals!

“Painted in the Tropics” is a story that has never been told in its fullest, and could never have been told while Theo was alive. The author goes into intimidate detail about the expat painters on Bali that Theo knew Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, Miguel Covarrubias, Le Mayeur, Han Snel, Donald Friend, Mario Blanco, Willem Hofker, Arie Smit and many others. Why was Walter Spies put in prison? And what happened when Han Snel kidnapped his 16-year old Balinese wife?

The author, Harold Stephens, knew Theo Meier for more than 30 years and he shared many experiences with him.

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