Robert Hite grew up in Tidewater Virginia in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and as a child was fascinated by the sheds and shacks on the other side of the racial divide. These handmade, transient structures, melded with the land, evocative of marginalized lives, the struggles of the poor and displaced, never lost their hold on his imagination and became the iconography of his art.
Hite, who works in a converted church in Esopus and studied at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC – he also studied ink-brush painting in Malaysia – has shown his paintings, sculptures and photographs across the US and abroad. He has traveled extensively in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe documenting these ephemeral-yet-universal provisional structures, taking photographs and connecting with the residents. In 2010, parts of actual shacks comprised a monumental sculpture that he created for a college in Texas: He obtained rusted metal sheets from shacks in Oaxaca, Mexico, by trading them for new stainless steel corrugated ones from the local hardware store.
In his mural-size, richly textured paintings, wall reliefs and towering sculptures, Hite depicts sheds freed of their mundane aspects and interpreted in the language of Magical Realism. They aren’t so much the receptacles of mysterious narratives as protagonists of their own stories. Rows of sheds on stilts cavort on the edge of bayous or cluster protectively against the descending dark of night. Their swaybacked roofs are as exuberant as the swoop of a bird’s wings. The exaggerated perspective of the clapboard walls and small windows of his sculptures and reliefs tell of storied time, expansive spaces, a kind of frontier of the spirit. Hite’s shacks defy decay. They are in the spirit of Dr. Seuss rather than Walker Evans: delicately wrought architectural creations that stretch and bend their long wooden bodies in a prancing dance.
A sampling of his work will be displayed on the second floor of Montgomery Row, the commercial building located just north of Upstate Films in Rhinebeck, from August 6 through September 26. The show underscores the artist’s eclecticism: His obsession with sheds and shacks gives the imagery a dreamlike logic while displaying the virtuosity of his process and inventiveness. Included are a few of the black-and-white photographs from his “Imagined Histories” series, in which his sculptures were photographed in natural settings. The images play with scale – we can’t tell if a row of houses perched on a beach are very small or taken from a great distance, for instance – which enhances their apparitionlike quality while simultaneously suggesting that they could be actual places, marking the border between fact and fantasy. (Hite said that he plans to shoot several of the sculptures on display in a new color series featuring more urban, Rust Belt settings, such as East Kingston and Buffalo.)
Also included is a sculpture representing a composite of the many sheds and outbuildings that Hite observed as a child, as well as numerous paintings whose combination of linear form and atmospheric color, reminiscent of Klee, suggests the mythic realm of folktales. “Working on a show where I feel free to react broadly to the myriad stories of our times is liberating and somehow fitting,” he said. “The complexity and tsunami of information about our world and culture gives one pause. To be able to explore a variety of ways to make art empathetically is my hopeful goal.”
“Studio Selects: Paintings, Sculptures and Photographs by Robert Hite” will be on display on the second floor of Montgomery Row, located at 6423 Montgomery Street (Route 9) in Rhinebeck, from August 6 through September 26. There will an artist’s reception on August 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information on “Studio Selects” contact Sue Hartshorn at (845) 876-0543 or www.montgomeryrow.com or Robert Hite at [email protected] or www.roberthite.com.