Artist of the Month: Kerrington Cai

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Kerrington Cai first picked up a camera in 2018.

Since, she’s been featured in galleries around Austin. A self-described “serious” and “intuitive” artist, Kerrington’s work is captivatingly intimate – often manipulating light in unique ways to add dimensionality to portraits, people, and their stories.

I met with Kerrington at Sa-Ten on Springdale in the heart of Austin’s burgeoning arts district, and in the same complex as the gallery where I first saw her work in person. We chatted about Colin Kaepernick, photography group chats, and breakfast tacos!

Kerrington: They have free copies of Paper magazine you should get one!

Jason: Where?

K: Oh wait, I think someone just took the last one. 

J: Oh no!

K: Do you want mine?

J: Oh that’s okay. That’s really cool, I’m glad he’s on the cover!

K: Do you know what he does now? Activism?

J: Yeah, I guess so. He’s still training to be in the NFL, but I don’t think he’s going to get picked up by any teams.  

K: Do you keep up with the NFL? 

J: No, I stopped actually because of his protests, and now I just can’t really get back into it. Do you keep up with it?

K: [No], I like the NBA a lot though. Basketball’s just way better in general. 

J: The players have so much personality!

K: Yeah for sure. Euji’s been making me watch the World Cup. What is it, FIBA?

J: Ok, yeah! 

K: I feel so honored that you guys would ask me to do this!

J: Your work is great!

K: Thanks for believing in it. 

J: Of course! How long have you been shooting? 

K: So I got my film camera in early 2018 so I’ve only been doing it since then. But I took a photography class at UT and I feel like that really sped me up. We had critiques every three weeks so I feel like I had to learn quite quickly what my style is and what I’m interested in photographing. 

It’s been fun for sure I feel like I’ve gotten so weirdly lucky with opportunities. I’m pretty passive and I don’t really push my work, you know? It’s weird but I feel really grateful too. 

J: Are there other art forms that you participate in besides photography?

K: Not actively! I guess modeling is an art form in some ways but I’m very passive about that as well. There are a lot of things that I like, and that I would like to do, but I’ve never picked anything up too intensely.

I think screen-printing is something that I would enjoy. It’s pretty similar to darkroom printing, but its hard to find a facility to work in now that I’m out of school.

J: That’s true, you were lucky to have that photography class. Do you keep in touch with anyone from the class?

K: Yeah we have a group chat! It was actually a class of five so it was very intimate. It was photography for non-majors. It was a cool class, everyone was very much a character. It was a good bond. Before that I’ve never taken an art class. It’s just a completely different subset of humans and skills. I really want to go back to art school, but who knows. 

J: You did Math and Biology, correct. 

K: I’m actually two classes away from my math degree. It’s only four credit hours so I should be fine. But I’m not putting it on my resume as if I have it yet. 

J: Does math get really abstract at that level?

K: For sure. Math is so weird. I went into it just thinking I’d be doing calculus for four years, but it becomes proofs and logic based very quickly. That was a pleasant surprise for me. 

J: Do you think any of your mathematical sensibilities translate over to the way that you use a camera?

K: I’ve never thought about that! Technically, cameras are closer to physics, I would say. But I do think knowing physics has helped me shoot pretty well. 

J: What does your family think about your photography?

K: I think my Mom just considers it my hobby. I’ve never really tried to explain to my family what it means to me, but also I don’t fully know what it means to me either, and I don’t know what I want to do with it yet. 

I mean, I’ve told her that I’ve gotten into some galleries and I’ve shown her a few images and she liked them, but I don’t think I’d ever say “Mom, I’m gonna pursue photography and struggle” 

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...once I started shooting, when I took that art class, It really changed my perception on possibilities for my future – that I don’t have to take this really straight path to find success.

J: There was a series that you did, I remember the first image was a letter, describing this condition…

K: Yeah! Acculturative family distancing. It’s basically just like, a theory that explains how between generations of immigrants the cultural understandings and values just change completely. That’s definitely something that I’ve felt between me and my parents, but I just didn’t know the academic term to explain it. So when I found that quote it definitely really resonated with me. I think with a lot of people in our generation. 

J: Is there a way that that plays out that is different because your background is East Asian, do you think?

K: For sure! I think the arts, or studying the arts was a very profound concept to me when I came to college. I considered it a road to failure. I think a lot of that was conditioning from my parents, and conditioning from thir parents. Again, generations passing down these ideas. But once I started shooting, when I took that art class, It really changed my perception on possibilities for my future – that I don’t have to take this really straight path to find success. 

It’s definitely made me value different artforms and realize that I have been interested in these things my entire life, but I was just too scared because of my parents’ influence. 

J: And do you still feel that fear?

K: Yeah. I’m mean I’m just such a passive person. I just wouldn’t have the balls to quit my job. I’m not really a go-getter, that’s just not my personality. 

J: I feel like all the portraiture that I’ve seen from you as an artist is very intimate.

K: Yeah!

J: Do you think that says anything about you as an artist?

K: I think the intimacy comes from my love of light – using light as a character. I come off as quite a serious person – very thoughtful and intuitive. So maybe it comes across subconsciously. Or consciously maybe.  But yeah, very moody, I would say. 

J: You grew up in San Antonio right? What was that like for you?

K: I loved it honestly. It’s definitely a very laid back city to grow up in. Its underrated. The food is really good. I do wish sometimes that I’d grown up in Houston. The arts scene is so interesting and the culture is so rich in comparison. But I do think that San Antonio is underrated. 

I do hear that San Antonio’s art scene is up and coming. I’ll have to go back and check it out. 

J: I feel like there’s something about cities that feel like they are an underdog – cool stuff happens. 

K: Yes, I agree! I visited Marfa recently. Everything felt too insincere. There were a lot of galleries that had really cool exhibitions. But the entire vibe of the city – it puts me off that its Brooklynites move down here and a well drink is $10. It makes no sense!

J: Does Austin or San Antonio have better breakfast tacos?

K: (laughs) I hate this question! They’re just so different! I don’t like to say anything is better than anything else. 

Photography by Kerrington Cai


 Kerrington Cai is a photographer and model. Follow her @kerringtxn on Instagram. Words by Jason Ikpatt. Photos of Kerrington by Eileen Wu. 

Jason Ikpatt