Tortured final years of art genius, Walter Meyer
Walter Meyer was living from hand to mouth in Upington
Celebrated artist Walter Meyer, whose evocative landscapes regularly sold for more than R50,000, died in a low-cost house in the Northern Cape, allegedly at the hands of his young wife.
Meyer, 52, had works hanging in collections in New York, Canada and in the South African National Gallery, but in recent years was reduced to peddling his paintings to put food on the table.
This week, fellow artists, friends, family and a pastor opened up about Meyer's last few years living in the Upington gap-housing suburb of Augrabies Park with his second wife, Sophia, 27, who has appeared in the Upington Magistrate's Court charged with his murder. She was remanded in custody to Friday.They said he lived like a "bergie", was drinking hard, and had a troubled marriage. But in recent months he had turned to the pastor of the Reformed Church for guidance.
While the circumstances of his murder on December 22 are unclear, a high-ranking police officer, who did not want to be named, said Meyer and Sophia had got into a fight. She allegedly grabbed a knife and stabbed him.
The artist's first wife, Catharina Scheepers, spoke bluntly about Sophia. She was "violent", said Scheepers, who added that she had spoken to her ex-husband by phone "an hour or two" before his death. She would not divulge details of the conversation.
Fellow artist Beezy Bailey described Meyer as "South Africa's Van Gogh".
He said: "He was a very tortured soul and I didn't expect him to live to old age, I expected him to drink himself to death. But people who drink often don't die of drinking, they die of something related to alcohol, and this is a perfect example.
"I was aware that he was basically living like a bergie and he also told me his wife had hit him with a bottle [and] there was a violent relationship going on."Bailey said he met Sophia when he visited the couple seven years ago. "They were from completely different worlds. Nothing in common."
Mark Read, chairman of Everard Read Gallery, said it was shocking when a "fine and gentle man" met such a violent death. Despite his "lifelong battle with alcohol", Read said Meyer was one of the "most profound landscapists of his generation".
He said: "I spoke with Walter about three weeks ago. He said he had some paintings which were coming along to completion and would send me photographs of them, but I never got the images.
"He lived an odd life. He was completely without materialistic things and lived a life dedicated to painting and a love of people. It was a spartan existence."
One Upington resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Meyer had fallen on hard times and was selling his paintings "here and there".
One of his oils, Lion's Head from Camps Bay, painted in 2006, sold for R102,000, according to auctioneers Strauss & Co.
According to two sources, Sophia is pregnant. She and Meyer already have two children together.
Scheepers said she and Meyer separated in 2006 but their two children saw him regularly.
Asked how they were coping with the loss of their father, Scheepers said: "Heartened by knowing that he had a deepened relationship with God before he died."
In October, Meyer visited MP Fourie, pastor of the local Reformed Church. Fourie said Meyer was a "gentle" introvert. But he wished for a good start to the new year and wanted his family to join the church. "He was serious about coming back to church. He always remembered his roots," said Fourie. "I told him it was important for him to sit with his family in the church pew and that we must endeavour to make it a reality."
WHO WAS WALTER MEYER?
• Carl Walter Meyer was born on January 31 1965 in Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape.• He matriculated with a distinction in art in 1982.• He obtained his BA in fine art from the University of Pretoria and studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany.