Sometimes the distance between fortune, fame, and ruin is just a house fire away, as Los Angeles painter Richard Hutchins found out found after his studio in Santa Monica burned down.
Thanks to the power of social media however, Richard also understands another distance—the one between homelessness and stardom.
In a real-life riches-to-rags-to-riches story filled with more serendipity than a John Cusack movie, Richard went from living on the streets to being exhibited in Beverly Hills’ largest art gallery, to selling millions of dollars worth of his unique canvasses to people like Oprah, the rappers 2 Chaainz and Whiz Khalifa, and Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper.
“I’ve always asked God to give me the opportunity to present myself to the world, and it’s just something that drives me,” Richard told GNN. “My inspiration is people. I’m not trying to get rich, I just want to earn enough to leave something behind that I can continue to help people, [but] the world reached out tremendously.”
It’s fair to say that as well-spoken as Richard is, ‘tremendously’ is an understatement. A once-famous artist who had painted canvasses for Marvin Gaye and Mohammed Ali, Richard knew the heights an artist could achieve, but just one month ago it would have been hard to imagine ever climbing to them again.
This totally-L.A. story begins when Charlie “Rocket” Jabalay, founder of the Dream Machine Foundation, finished his career at 29 as a manager for hip-hop artists in Atlanta after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“I wanted to chase my dream that I had since I was a kid,” Charlie told GNN. “That happens to us all; we bury a dream and build up something else, but I was facing death and I thought ‘if I’m going to die let me chase my dream,’ and my dream was to become a professional athlete.”
“I lost 130 pounds and biked across America and did Iron Man and marathons and reversed my brain tumor. All my dreams came true, and that’s why I wanted to start making other peoples’ dreams come true. I had a conversation with God, and I asked ‘You’ve done so much for me, what can I do for you?’ And God spoke loud, he said ‘go give love.’”
As enshrined forever on Charlie’s Instagram feed, he came across Richard Hutchins sitting on a cart in front of Ralphs, saying he used to be a famous artist and that his dream would be to walk into a museum and see a painting of his hanging on the wall.
While Charlie and his foundation spent $2,000 to get Richard a canvass and some oils to paint with, Richard was being admitted to the emergency room. At 70-years old and battling cancer, thousands of stories have finished on that page, but not Richard’s. He managed to pull through and was discharged shortly after.
“Out of nowhere” as Charlie described it, an old friend who just happened to operate the Cool HeART Gallery, the largest art galley in Beverly Hills, called the former athlete, and upon hearing about Richard simply offered to throw him a late-June art show alongside celebrity LA artists Ruben Rojas and Richard Orlinksi.
“Charlie kept coming by saying ‘we have a surprise for you’ and every surprise got bigger and bigger and bigger, until I ended up on the red carpet in Beverly Hills,” says Richard.
To drum up support for Richard’s exhibition appearance, Charlie’s Dream Machine Foundation created a Shopify website for Richard to sell his art in order to try and get his life back in order.
The results were staggering, with $50,000 dollars worth of original prints, canvasses, and commissions sold in the first 24 hours, doubling to $100,000 just a few days later. Once again, Charlie was there to capture all of the action on his Instagram.
The look in Richard’s eyes says it all.
Steve Harvey bought a print, noting, “I was homeless and know what Richard Hutchins is going through. I am honored to purchase his art. Let’s go Dream Machine!”
Other celebrities like Trey Songz and Will Smith shared the story, the former noting, “this is amazing,” and even his hosting service Shopify produced a small video about the instantaneous life-transformation happening in real time.
“I came from South Georgia; aged six I was in the cotton field working after school, and during break I would take the brown bags and I would pull them apart and use sticks from the fire to start drawing stick men,” says Richard, reflecting on his journey. “It’s my opportunity now to pay it forward.”
Now Richard has a money manager, a health coach to ensure he doesn’t end up in the ER again any time soon, a new car, and a new career, all without losing any sense of where he could have been.
“About a minute before Charlie pulled up, I stood up and got ready to walk away, but this particular day which was Easter, I stood up and something pushed me back down,” explains Richard. “If I had left that minute I would have never seen Charlie.”
“I don’t want to draw attention to myself, I want to draw attention to the problem. I call the president, the vice-president, I say ‘come to Skid Row,’ that’s my dream—to use my power to help better this place; to help better Los Angeles.”
Richard has since established a foundation named after his late mother for the purpose of providing scholarships to kids who can’t afford to go to school. Richard’s canvasses are next on the road to Miami, where they are to be exhibited alongside those of Richard’s hero, Andy Warhol.
Within a week of going from homelessness to the 1%, Richard was working to give as much back as he could. It’s a story that helps remind us of so many things—of compassion, of belief in the human spirit, in modesty, and it reminds us to never, never give up on our dreams.