Oprah Surprises Formerly Homeless Painter Richard Hutchins By Buying His Art

·3 min read
Photo credit: ET
Photo credit: ET

Oprah is cheering on Richard Hutchins, a formerly homeless painter, in the midst of his whirlwind rise to fame. Until recently, Hutchins, 62, had been living on the streets of Los Angeles, the latest stop in an extraordinary story.

In the 2000s, Hutchins gained recognition as an artist of celebrity portraits. But he had a secret. According to his website, Hutchins "never thought people would be interested in his art without a compelling story," so he created one. He claimed he was former football player Drew Hill.

In 2010, Hutchins's true identity was exposed and he eventually went to prison, where he continued to make art using Skittles, coffee grounds, and M&Ms. Ever since his release six years ago, he's been homeless.

Hutchins's dream? To move people through his art again—this time, using his real name. And on April 4, Hutchins got closer to that dream. He had a chance encounter in a grocery store parking lot with Charlie "Rocket" Jabaley, a music manager-turned-nonprofit CEO, who made it his mission to get Hutchins's work recognized. In a matter of weeks, Hutchins had a new website, an online auction grossing $50,000, and a one-night gallery exhibit. He's made upwards of $200,000 on his portraits since.

On June 29, Oprah surprised Hutchins during a segment of Entertainment Tonight hosted by one of her daughter-girls, Thando Dlomo.

"Richard, I have somebody who would love to meet you, who honestly has been so inspired and so excited by all that you've been doing, just like the rest of the world," Dlomo told Hutchins over Zoom, as Oprah walked into the room behind her. Hutchins and Rocket, sitting next to him, became visibly emotional. When he recovered, Hutchins told Oprah that he had once painted a portrait of Oprah and her father, but it was stolen.

Oprah had a bit of business advice. "Richard, you're not charging enough money for these paintings," she said.

"I saw an Angela Davis portrait, it was like $150? So listen, I'm gonna pay $1,500 for that, because it needs to be at least 10 times what you're asking for it," she said. Oprah also was interested in a print of a painting called Flower Girl. When she saw the original was actually available, she went for that instead, buying the portrait of a young girl with flowers in her hair for $5,000. "She's beautiful," she said.

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For Hutchins, the exchange was affirming and emotional. "You don't even know what you've done with my life," Hutchins told Oprah and Dlomo.

Oprah left Hutchins with a bit of wisdom. "I'm so proud of you for taking your pain and turning it into promise and into a powerful form of expression for yourself. What I know for sure is that's what all of us as human beings are looking for. We all just want to be able to have the truest, highest expression of ourselves. And you are doing that," she said.

She encouraged him to keep painting. The world will be watching, herself included. "I look forward to seeing many more artistic expressions from you," she said.

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