Tom Hughes was born in Massachusetts in 1965. He was a staff artist at the Christian Science Monitor newspaper in Boston in the 1980’s, finally leaving to practice fine art, at which he’s been occupied for more than 30 years.
Once referred to as “a genius” by late, renowned artist and author Charles Movalli, Hughes has had solo exhibitions in galleries in the New England States, North Carolina, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and France. He is proficient in several painting media including oil, acrylic, and watercolor, with subject matter comprised of figure painting, portrait, landscape and the odd still life or genre picture.
Hughes’s work has been featured in American Artist Watercolor magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur, for which he painted the the magazine’s publisher B. Eric Rhoads’s portrait, and Southwest Art magazine. An example of Hughes's watercolor painting is featured in Watercolor Painting by Tom Hoffmann (Watson Guptill, 2012).
In 2019, Tom Hughes won the $15,000 Grand Prize for painting at the Plein Air Convention and Expo, held in San Francisco.
In 2018, Tom Hughes was made a signature member of the Plein Air Painters of America.
Tom lives in New Hampshire's seacoast region.
AS A YOUNGSTER, when it came to school art projects, Tom Hughes favored pencils and manila paper over scissors and colored construction paper, and drawing an accurate rendition of Spider-Man seemed considerably more compelling than fashioning something out of string and glue.
“I was always obsessed with getting things to look right,” Hughes confesses with a good-natured laugh. “You’d see other kids in class happily scribbling, and I was always weirdly uptight about it.”
These days, the perfectionist tendencies of his youth have loosened their grip, and the artist now cheerfully surrenders to what he calls the “immersive engagement” of painting, whether he’s working en plein air or in his Alameda, CA, studio.
“When I started painting, I’d see every blade of grass,” says the native New Englander, who taught himself to paint outdoors around the city of Boston, where he also worked as a staff artist at The Christian Science Monitor. Over time, as Hughes studied the works of artists he admired, including Winslow Homer and Edgar Degas, he learned that grass needs only a few expressive strokes of paint.
While he still concerns himself with getting details right, sometimes employing painterly realism, he also allows his intuitive inner artist to guide him as he works. “I have a consistent way of arranging pictorial elements, but it’s not the same design over and over again,” he says. “It’s the combination of everything in a painting, plus the unknowable magic of a hand, an eye, and chance.”
Hughes proficiently toggles between oils, watercolors, and acrylics, and his subject matter is equally diverse. Last year, in two separate PleinAir Salon competitions, he snapped up the Best Western prize for an oil painting of a pack train navigating through the High Sierra, and Best Acrylic for a portrayal of his artist friend François relaxing at his home in France’s Loire Valley.
Indeed, Hughes is as comfortable portraying a mountain tarn as he is painting working lobstermen; at home in the Oakland area, he often sets up his easel in the urban areas around the bay. “Degas painted horses, plus his ballet dancers, plus landscapes,” he notes. “The real artists tend to be omnipainterous.” If Hughes has just coined a new term, it suits the painter and his all-embracing art perfectly. —Kim Agricola.This story was featured in the March/April 2019 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March/April 2019 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.