Morning Star

In 1970 Dick Fairfield published “The Modern Utopian: Communes, U.S.A.,” a large-format book compiling three issues of his alternative press magazine on intentional communities. Most of the material in the book had been collected by Fairfield during journeys taken across the country in the late 60s. On account of its journalistic idiosyncrasies the accompanying text (that is entirely his own, combining verbatim interviews with personal opinions and summary histories of the communes) provides a vivid and unfiltered commentary on the ideals behind the commitments to alternative family structures and economic models that were behind many of these initiatives. The book’s text is illustrated by numerous black and white photographs taken by Fairfield, by commune residents, and probably by the occasional visiting photographer. The majority of these images are unstaged photos of everyday recreational commune life. A few others show scenes of work, prayer, or moments of conflict with the local authorities who would sometimes close down communities for sanitation or public order violations.

I have a long interest in historical socialist literature that engages with utopian ideals and alternative communities, and before moving to Cincinnati I had extensively researched Charles Fourier’s radical early-nineteenth century writings on the “phalanstery,” his term for the large cohort and architectural dwelling of a self-sufficient community incorporating all income levels. Though Fourier was never able to build a French phalanstery, his theories were realized by many American nineteenth-century idealists who founded settlements along Fouierist plans, one of which was the short-lived 1840s adventure in Utopia, Ohio, ended by a flood.

I made pencil drawings and oil paintings derived from images in Fairfield’s book. Morning Star is the name of one of the communes featured in these drawings and paintings. I imagine these works as a form of contemporary history painting. The drawings are detailed copies that enlarge black and white photos and text taken directly from pages of Fairfield’s book. The paintings are greatly enlarged color versions of artwork, made by commune residents, appearing in some of these same photos. These labor-intensive drawings are on textured watercolor paper that influences their rendering. The oil paintings are made on linen on stretchers up to eight feet square. I intend the method of image-making and the materials used here as a homage to the ideals and challenging life of the communes. On the scale they are made, the pencil drawings allow an exacting interpretation of every detail of photographs that might otherwise be passed over in a glance. I regard 60s psychedelic imagery, and by extension the art made on these communes, as wish images that indirectly represent ideals that may have been unrealizable at the time. The paintings I have made for “Morning Star” are intended to salvage these images from obscurity and realize them as literally and completely as possible.