How this homeless artist became a viral internet sensation


Written by Abbey Clark, CNN

Contributors Ila Wilborn, CNNLeah Dolan, CNN

Life for Richard Hutchins hasn’t been easy. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, he grew up in Techwood Homes, one of the first federal public housing projects in the United States, before moving to Los Angeles.

In LA, he eventually found an art studio where he could act on a passion for painting he’d had since the age of 6. But he struggled there too, later landing in a Los Angeles County jail.

While in prison, Hutchins spent his days painting portraits on envelopes, experimenting with what was available to him — toothpaste, Kool-Aid and the colored dye coating of Skittles and M&Ms — and using a paintbrush made from his plucked beard hairs.

By the time he was released, Hutchins had lost his studio to a fire and he became homeless. He walked the streets and lived on beaches before ending up in homeless shelters on Skid Row.

Artist Richard Hutchins, with Charlie Rocket, at an exhibition of his art at the Sofitel Los Angeles hotel in June.

Artist Richard Hutchins, with Charlie Rocket, at an exhibition of his art at the Sofitel Los Angeles hotel in June. Credit: Robin L Marshall/Getty Images

Hutchins had been living on Skid Row for six years when, this past Easter Sunday, he encountered Charlie “Rocket” Jabaley, rapper 2Chainz’s former manager, at a grocery store in Los Angeles. Since then, Jabaley and his company, the Dream Machine, have helped transform Hutchins’ life.

When they asked him what his dream was, Hutchins replied: “My dream is to walk into a museum one day and see one of my paintings hanging on the wall.”

After an initial conversation, Jabaley took him to an art store and purchased $2,000 worth of supplies to get him painting again. Then, Jabaley and his team created a website for Hutchins to sell his work, including the 250 envelopes he had painted while in jail. (Some of those envelopes were later donated to institutions, including the UC Santa Barbara Library.)

Richard Hutchins' painting "Blue Lennon."

Richard Hutchins’ painting “Blue Lennon.” Credit: Richard Hutchins

Four hours after the website went live, Jabaley and his team had sold $50,000 worth of art. Jabaley later organized an exhibition for Hutchins at the Sofitel Los Angeles hotel in Beverly Hills, where hundreds of people showed up. Hutchins sold even more paintings that night, including one that went for $23,000.

To date, Hutchins has made more than $200,000 from art sales, with notable buyers including Oprah Winfrey, 2Chainz, Steve Harvey and Will Smith.

Jabaley started the Dream Machine to help others realize their wildest ambitions. “This is what I feel is the new age of philanthropy,” he told CNN.

Richard at Sofitel Los Angeles with his Jimi Hendrix-inspired work, "Acid Head."

Richard at Sofitel Los Angeles with his Jimi Hendrix-inspired work, “Acid Head.” Credit: Courtesy Aiden White/Rubenstein Public Relations

Now that Hutchins is off the streets, he plans to help Dream Machine with its mission wherever he can. But, he said, his “destiny” now is “to go back to Skid Row.”

“I remember the night I slept in a firm good bed. It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “But I am not comfortable until everybody around me is comfortable, which means the people that I left behind.”

Hutchins plans on paying his good fortune forward: “I’m just not sitting around spending money. I am trying to make things happen; I am going to make things happen.”

Richard at the Sofitel in Beverly Hills.

Richard at the Sofitel in Beverly Hills. Credit: Courtesy Aiden White/Rubenstein Public Relations

The night after his Sofitel exhibition, Hutchins went to Skid Row and gave all the money in his pockets to people living on the streets, he said. In the future, he hopes to launch a fundraiser for breast cancer research in honor of his late mother, and to start a foundation in her name that will help clean up Skid Row and put kids through school.

“The money that we have raised and continue to raise, I am going to use … to at least try to make the world a little bit better place to live in — especially on Skid Row.”

See more of Richard Hutchins’ art on his website or the via Dream Machine Foundation.



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