Austin watercolor artist Kerry Hugins opens up.
Kerry Hugins is the artist behind the background cover art for San Antonio Review (Volume III | Summer 2020). Get your copy.
1. Let's start with the basics, tell us about yourself.
I was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. I watched the Challenger explode as a preschooler. But I grew up overseas: Mexico City a year after the earthquake in the ‘80s; Cape Town during the vote to end Apartheid; Monterrey, Mexico, when Colosio was assassinated; Fairfax, Virginia, when Columbine happened; Virginia Commonwealth University when 9/11 happened. That summer, I curated an installation of condolence letters that the U.S. Consulate had been flooded with for the 4th of July event in Munich, Germany. I read all these letters from children, kids, adults, expats — I read them all and scanned them and did my best honoring that.
Then, rushing into adulthood, I interned with the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn. I had to borrow $4,000 from a rich uncle to complete the internship, and I hated every minute. You would think it would be a building full of visionaries. At that time, it was not, they are a very well funded institution, they have a highly selective and competitive internship application process, and they also would even give us interns a lunch ticket. Eventually, one Friday, I took the train home early and sabotaged my ability to keep coming in and working for them for free. I left that spring to go stay in Nepal for a few months — until right before the Maoist uprising. After a few years of working and making back home, I went back to school.
My father was a diplomat (now retired). My mother had been a prosecutor during the Daytona Beach years before my dad joined the Foreign Service. I went to art school for university and loved it. I could be a perpetual student if student debt wasn’t such a burden. I have been in Austin for ten years now. Just prior to Austin, I lived at a retreat center for a year in western Massachusetts. Before that, I was finishing up a post-baccalaureate, working for an artist-run art gallery and having fun hanging around artist weirdos and installing art in the gallery and at art fairs where I met some famous people and saw a lot of raucous creativity.
2. What media do you mainly work with?
3. What got you started on your current path?
When I was six years old, my mom became friends with a successful painter in Mexico City, where we were living. We went to their house and she showed me her studio and told me what she did and I knew then that I wanted to be an artist.
I love painting. Some years I paint more than others, but I always paint and make art and have been nurturing a solid bender for about six years now.
4. How have things (artistically, life, whatever) changed for you over the past seven months?
I have been watching COVID-19 spread across the globe on Twitter before it arrived here, and I was not able to sleep through the night. I have a very vivid imagination, and this pandemic has messed with my subconscious a lot. I am a mother to a 6-year old, and navigating the world of pod schools, private schools, home-schools, un-schooling — it is all overwhelming and depressing. So I do a lot of angry workouts.
5. Who to/Where do you look for inspiration?
I love to hike. Taking walks in nature, camping, getting outside in nature is important for me, and staring at flowers. I love flower-gazing and getting lost in their beauty. I find great joy in noticing the details in life, in any scene my eyes rest upon. Someone (a famous poet, I think?) said stars are reflected in the design of flowers and I agree very much.
6. What are your major concerns with the world today?
Climate change. I do not want to die as an old woman and leave my daughter and her friends and family trapped on a burning dumpster planet.
7. How does your artwork connect with your larger purpose?
Flower-gazing and abstract contemporary art that reflect color combos I see around me show up in my paintings. I have to find outlets. The human condition is overwhelming and I am the kind of person that has huge enormous feelings about everything, which I then promptly judge. It is one of the gifts of being an INFJ.1
8. Advice for beginners (of any age)?
Art is one way of expressing humanity, but not the only way to express your humanity, so try and be kind to yourself.
9. Work/shows we should look for?
Everything keeps getting cancelled, check out my newest work on my Instagram account at
10. Final comments? Additions?
If you want to see who inspires me, I share their work in my Instagram stories. I have hundreds of images saved in my Instagram account that I peruse and sit with — like a catalogue of awesome.
I want to see the art market change. The MFA is so so expensive — so prohibitively expensive — and I cannot relocate my entire life for the blessings of $80,000 in debt and maybe a few sales a year of $500.
A new model must emerge.
Kerry Hugins, a stay-at-home artist and Mom, lives on the edge of the Hill Country in Austin. Her childhood was spent in the cities of Miami, Mexico City, Cape Town, Monterrey (Mexico) and Washington, D.C. The color pairings of native wildflowers she and her daughter find on hikes are imprinted on her working memory and zest for life.