Hughes was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1981. She studied at Rhode Island School of Design, and later at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Her early paintings took the form of interiors. Though seemingly playful and dreamlike, these domestic scenes were also deeply personal, reflecting her longing for a sense of home. The artist’s eye for pattern, colour and spatial complexity was already evident in these paintings, demonstrating the influence of David Hockney and Henri Matisse.
After settling in New York in 2014, Hughes arrived at her mature style. Her paintings began to look like landscapes, featuring organic motifs such as trees, flowers, rivers, mountains, suns and moons. Often rendered on large, immersive scales, these works oscillate between figuration and abstraction. Like the interiors, however, they are less depictions of places than expressions of Hughes’ own internal world. Their vibrant, chaotic surfaces are filled with emotion and sensation. The artist works freely and intuitively, allowing her subconscious to guide her decisions.
Alongside her paintings, Hughes makes mixed-media works on paper and prints. She has cited Paul Gauguin, Milton Avery, Chris Ofili and Howard Hodgkin as important precedents for her use of colour. Elsewhere, her works contain of echoes of Fauvism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Hughes was also influenced by time spent in Scandinavia. In 2023, the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark exhibited a series of works inspired by the light and colours of Nordic landscapes.
Hughes’ presentation at the 2017 Whitney Biennial was a landmark moment in her career. Since then she has exhibited internationally, with solo shows at major institutions worldwide. In May 2022, Christie’s sold Spins from Swiss (2017) for $2,940,000, setting a new auction record for the artist. Hughes was also invited to collaborate with Dior on their iconic Lady Dior bag in 2023.