When he was a senior at La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, Ian Hucke had major surgery to remove a mass from his brain due to a congenital condition. While still in rehabilitation, and not wanting to delay college, he made a deal with his parents: If he stayed near his home and parents Debbie and Doug Hucke and sister Rebecca, and attended The University of New Mexico, he could live on campus and maintain his independence, a priority for him.

UNM bound
Ian Hucke and parents Doug and Debbie celebrate his acceptance at UNM

A few years later, while a 21-year-old junior at UNM in 2017, Hucke crossed Lead Avenue in Albuquerque on his way home from Johnson Center. He doesn’t remember much of what happened for a while after that. He was hit by a truck. Another UNM student witnessed the accident and called for help. Hucke was rushed to the hospital with a shattered skull, broken bones, a brain hemorrhage, and collapsed lungs. After being in a coma for six weeks, he was moved to a rehabilitation center where he relearned how to walk, talk, and eat before eventually moving back to Albuquerque and resuming his studies at UNM. He still has some physical and neurological effects from his early surgery and the accident.

But those rocky life experiences haven’t hurt Hucke’s wide grin, sunny outlook on life, his extrovert personality, or his optimism for the future.

Hucke’s injuries have clearly not harmed his sense of humor either. Asked if he had any advice for incoming Lobos, he quipped, “Don’t get hit by a car!”

The experience also set Hucke on a bright new path with art.

His artist’s statement from his capstone project sums up what happened next: “His passion for painting portraits was ignited after tragedy… Ian discovered that painting could be an escape and also a vehicle for healing. Pairing his love for meeting new people and all the time spent in busy waiting rooms, painting portraits of strangers became a natural fit.”

In an interview just a few days before he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Painting on December 12, 2020, Hucke reflected, “It has been painstakingly slow, but steady... I think my medical issues have made me a more thoughtful artist. Having lost a lot of ‘abilities,’ I don't take my creativity for granted. I also love painting people. My tough medical history gives me a sensitivity and an imagination for the challenges everyone has.”

For his portraits, Hucke usually uses watercolor paint, adding texture and detail with graphite.

Each subject is a real person and gazes directly at the viewer, many with a slight welcoming smile, as though meeting for the first time and ready to start a conversation. “With this combination, he encourages others to see people more deeply,” says his artist’s statement. The bios are poignant but witty. He hopes the observer will find that “an emotional connection is made which can offer healing. In his view, a person's face is the public window into their soul and his work serves to connect us all.”

Bonnie, by Ian Hucke

Bonnie: “Bo to her friends, is a passionate environmentalist. She is thoughtful and caring to any living creature and seeks out the marginalized. In spite of her kindness and elegance her insecurity sometimes gets to her. When it does, she retreats and finds solace watching reruns of Buffy and the Vampire Slayer. She has decided to grow her hair long enough to donate it to Locks of Love in honor of her Aunt Rita who died of cancer.”

Peter “speaks four languages and is working towards his Ph.D. in philosophy.  Even though brilliant, he is socially awkward and is most comfortable at home with his three cats. Reluctantly he has been seeing a counselor to help him to be less of a recluse. He dreads their sessions and the self-reflection that is required. His mom is hoping he’ll come visit for Christmas, but he’s been dragging his feet to commit.”

For an artist who depends on the people around him for inspiration, the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent limited access to the UNM campus have been a challenge.

“I do my best work in a studio... not where I live. COVID has been tough because studio access has been impossible. And with limited people around inspiration is hard to come by,” said Hucke, who still lives in the dorms. He misses meeting up with friends in the dining hall and art studio.

The Fine Arts grad thanked faculty and also UNM support staff for his success.

Hucke’s Painting 3 professor was graduate assistant Amado Pena III. “He helped me with my solo art exhibit at the Harwood Art Center in May 2019.  It was a big accomplishment and Amado went above and beyond to help me to put it together.” He added that assistant professor of Art John Abbott “pulled out some of my best work” and Scott Anderson, associate professor of Art, helped him find inspiration to continue being productive through the COVID shutdown.

Hucke said accommodations specialist Tonia Trapp of the UNM Accessibility Resource Center “helped me to advocate for myself and made classes accessible, before and after my accident. She even helped me take the proper steps to freeze my lottery scholarship so I could return to college when I was ready with a reduced load,” while Daniel Guardado, academic advisor for the UNM College of Fine Arts helped him choose the right classes tailored to his interests.

“I owe a ton of gratitude to Tonia Trapp and Daniel Guardado. They both deserve credit for keeping me on track and making this day even possible.”

Eyeing his future, Hucke recalled an inspiring and exciting trip to New York. “In the fall of my sophomore year, I did an intrastate exchange to William Patterson, New Jersey. The college was across the bridge from New York City. I took a class that took us into the city every week to visit a different museum. I fell in love with Brooklyn. To move there someday would be a dream.”

“I would love to work with other disabled artists,” he continued. “I can relate and they often inspire me. My time volunteering at VSA North 4th Art Center in Albuquerque has been both eye-opening and fulfilling. I hope to work there, while I continue to pursue my own art.”

“Thanks to UNM making it possible for me to finish my degree, I hope that as an artist I'm able to inspire other disabled artists… It took a village over a long period of time, but I finally did it. I'm a UNM graduate.”