by Brooke Chilvers
I first met watercolorist Bodo Meier on a snowy night in the dead of winter, over a table laden with red-deer ragout, potato dumplings, and red cabbage. Yet all the talk was of Africa.
Already, by the time we met in 2013, Bodo had made numerous trips to East Africa, starting in 1996. These resulted in two books, Mal Reise in die Serengeti (A Painting Journey in the Serengeti) and Serengeti Lebt (Serengeti Lives) based on his five volumes of African sketchbooks.
He was also a major contributor to Wild Heart of Africa, Rolf Baldus’s book, published by Rowland Ward, dedicated to “exploring” Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, now gravely menaced by modern-day “progress” in the form of mining, highways, and dams.
Bodo is known not only as a teacher of art but also biology and chemistry. For years — and often several times a year — he has offered field classes and instruction in watercolors to small groups of artists, painting the bucolic landscapes and wildlife of Bavaria and the Swiss Canton of Aargau.
For the last several years, he has also given such art workshops in Africa. These began almost by accident, in Bavaria, when a student, Katja, suggested Meier come out to Namibia with a group of artists to paint African wildlife.
Katja and her husband own and operate Ijaba Lodge, an oasis among the camelthorn and wait-a-bit thorn bushveld of Namibia’s Kalahari Desert; it offers proper and affordable accommodation, campfires, and good cooking – all within reach of Etosha National Park.
Here, the artists can approach and observe impala, springbok, gemsbok, greater kudu, ostrich, cheetah, giraffe, and even mountain zebra – not to mention all the little stuff from hornbills to termite hills. The Big-Five species of elephant, lion, leopard, and white rhino can be studied within driving distance, in the well-organized and marvelous Etosha park.
The first year, Bodo had eight students. The next year, he had 10.
After a third seminar season, Bodo admits he got a little tired of handling all the travel arrangements, and wanted to take a break. But then came an offer to do a workshop at Serondela Lodge, situated on the banks of the Namibian side of the Chobe River, in the Caprivi Strip/Zambezi region.
The Chobe is famous for its incredible abundance, even overpopulation, of elephants, as Meier suggests in his watercolor of a thirsty herd, Elephants Drinking from the Chobe River. There are also plenty of Cape buffalo, roan antelope, hippo, crocodiles, as well as elusive species such as puku. One night the group listened to three or four lions in a vicious, 30-minute brawl.
Then came Covid-19, and Meier got his time off.
Born in Siegen, Germany in 1949, Bodo is, of course, a student of Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert(1865-1926). Having walked in his footsteps, Meier even returned to university as an adult to develop skills in field identification, comparative anatomy, and scientific drawing. Soon, he was a regular contributor to German hunting magazines such as Wild und Hund.
An even more important early influence was his art instructor, the watercolorist and Jagdmaler (hunting artist), Willi Schütz (1914–1995), who’d met Picasso and Dali in Paris and later studied with Kokoschka. Schütz used bold colors and brushstrokes to express his subject’s movement impressionistically, whether fleeing through a shadowy forest or crossing a snowy landscape. He used refracted light effects to imply the season and time of day, all of which Meier absorbed.
Recently, Meier has been experimenting with watercolor pigments on a textured, highly absorptive paper from Tibet called Kahari, made from a purple-flowered, toxic species of Daphne. In Heads of Lions, you see how the paper adds another dimension for picking up or spreading color, expanding the possibilities of each color’s different hues.
It doesn’t look like Bodo Meier and his artists are going anywhere in Africa in 2021. But he can never stay away for too long.
Brooke’s first visit to the Botswana side of the Chobe was during a rough-and-tumble mobile tented safari – nothing in the world like today’s incomparably situated, luxurious eco-lodges. “But I wouldn’t exchange our sandy adventure for anything in the world.”