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27 September 2001



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Joe Haldeman: Art for Art's Sake October 2001

Joe Haldeman is the best-selling, multiple-award-winning author of novels from The Forever War (1975) to The Coming (2000). He also paints, carrying his paintbox with him from Timbuktu to Tenerife, by airplane carry-on bag or on the back of his bicycle. When he has time, he paints figure studies and abstract works of evocative landscapes and still-life studies in delicate watercolor: of course he's chosen the most challenging medium to master. But it's undeniably portable, and for your 21st Century Renaissance Man, flying from the Canary Islands to Ireland in a single bound – or two or three or four – portability is a primary concern.

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview (conducted by Karen Haber):

‘‘I vaguely remember starting to draw before kindergarten, my mother cutting up brown paper grocery bags for me to scrawl on. All through grade school I wrote and drew interminably long comic books, which she would bind with string. She also got me started painting. The summer after third grade I got badly sunburned at the beach, and since I couldn't go outside she bought me some simple paint-by-number oil paints to distract me. She was an enthusiastic amateur artist, at various times being consumed by oils, watercolors, sumi-e, and ceramics. I did all of those, too, studying her books. Never took any classes myself, until right after I got out of the army. We went to Mexico for the summer and I took my one and only university art course, drawing figures and portraits in ink. Every now and then I go to a workshop on painting portraits or landscapes or (once, because the instructor was gorgeous) flowers. Once a week I go to an open figure studio – no instruction, just plunk down your ten bucks and paint the woman.’’


‘‘Most of my paintings are travel notes, so I just walk around with a folding camp chair and my watercolor kit until I find something that's interesting and paintable. Or just carry a small watercolor box, half-pans, and look for something that's (A) paintable and (B) has a place to sit. When I do an abstract I either think in terms of formal composition – what shapes should go where on the page, or what combination of colors do I want to play with? I usually do a few small-scale sketches. Sometimes I just doodle shapes with a pen or pencil and look for interesting relationships in the random spaces that show up.’’


‘‘Comparing painting to writing, and the preparation for both, is kind of talking apples and oranges, but there is a correspondence. In both cases, sometimes there is no preparation at all; I just start and see where things go. I do sometimes write down notes, or a kind of a free-form outline, for a short story; I guess that would be the equivalent of rough composition sketches for a painting. Sometimes I write down the central idea of a short story and look at it on the bulletin board for years, until it suddenly crystallizes (that happened with 'None So Blind'.) There's no exact equivalent to that, but I do often indulge in 'mental painting'; visualizing future paintings while I'm stuck in line or in a traffic jam. A real painter would probably whip out a little pad and make some notes. I wind up with a vague recollection that might surface subconsciously.’’


''As for science fiction, I think most of my abstract paintings have a science-fiction 'feel,' but that may just be because I'm a science fiction guy. The paintings I've done in a realistic science fiction vein have not made me happy. But then I've been enjoying the masters of the form, from Hannes Bok to Jim Burns, since I was a kid, and relate to their work in an emotional way that is different from the way I relate to other art. I'd enjoy illustrating my own work – when I'm good enough. I actually have two modest projects in the works, which I don't want to talk about until they're done.''

The full interview, with additional art samples, is published in the October 2001 issue of Locus Magazine.

Locus previously interviewed Joe Haldeman in July 1997.


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