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5 Questions with Xavier Hutchins

Follow Xavier on Instagram at @art_by_zay.

Before he got into painting, Xavier Hutchins would’ve been content to go to school for accounting. Thankfully, he followed his passion and is now a full-time artist.

Originally from the west side of Atlanta, Hutchins has spent about half his life in this area, first in Bluffton and then in Savannah. Hutchins graduated from Savannah State in 2013 and has been working on his art ever since.

We caught up with Hutchins last week.

1. How did you first get into painting?

I actually didn’t start painting until college. Before then, I had been drawing all my life, but up until then it was just sketching with my pencil in the sketchpad. When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to go for, as I always heard there wasn’t a lot of money in art. And I was good at math, so I thought, “Maybe I can just be an accountant.” I was good in that area as well, but it just didn’t fulfill me the way art does.

I was looking at ways to where I could be able to do what I love but still get compensated constantly as far as income, so I looked into being a tattoo artist and doing research with that. I learned that becoming a painter or illustrator would make an easier transition into becoming a tattoo artist. I actually learned to paint in order to become a tattoo artist, and I ended up loving it. Not just painting, but being at Savannah State just opened up my mind to different avenues like photography, graphic design, printmaking, all of those things that I dabble in, too.

When I was entering my last year of college, I was able to come in contact with the owner [of a tattoo shop] who was interested in me being an apprentice. I’d been there for five years, just long enough to the point where it just took my love out of it because I was doing it too much. During that time, I started to realize that I love painting a lot more, and I tattooed so much I didn’t have the time to express myself in that way. I had to take a risk and jump ship, follow in a different path.

2. What’s it like to be a full-time artist?

It’s not easy. The design aspect of it, the paining aspect isn’t hard. It’s just finding the business and the clientele to be able to sustain yourself, finding different avenues to help sustain yourself. I do original paintings, I do paintings by commission, I do custom sneakers, I have a website that sells prints of works I’ve previously done along with shirts. I gain income from all three avenues to help me being able to sustain myself.

Granted, keeping track of all that by myself can be nerve-wracking, but overall l I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3. What inspires you in your original work? How do you get those ideas out?

I get a lot of inspiration from my outlook on the world, as I see things happen, along with music. I listen to a lot of music that I find to be relatable. Just having simple conversations with my peers can generate a thought or an idea of something I can throw on a canvas.

I listen to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, artists who speak on different social issues, such as Big K.R.I.T. and Killer Mike. I listened to everything he said. He can literally make someone run through the wall for him with his words. He’s not exactly politically correct, but he says what he needs to say, and I really respect that.

I come from the Westside, so all that hits home whenever I see him or any artist from that area. Like T.I.—he’s been doing the same thing. I grew up listening to all of them, so just to see them coming out and speaking out means a lot to me. It inspires me to do the same thing with my realm of art. I wish I could do music and rap and all that, but I just cannot do it to save my life.

4. Tell me more about the mural at Bull and 40th for the Starland Mural Project.

With that mural, I love just looking at it, especially with what's going on today. I did it in December of last year, and it's just so weird how relevant it is. It's a snapshot of what I see that goes on in the world, telling a lot of stories within it. I also feel like it gets the message across for helping one another. Each one teach one, if you make it over, make sure you give back. Reach back and pull the next person up. That's how we can all move forward; that's how each generation can do better. If we're not doing that, then you have what we have today.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to make this. That was my first public mural, and I came into it with the mindset of, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to say something that means something. I don’t want it to just be something that’s aesthetically beautiful. I want something that’s there that people can walk by and have a reminder of what we can do to make the world better, or at least this country.

I recently had someone tag me in a photo of them wearing a shirt saying, “I can’t breathe.” And it was just like, that was powerful. It complements the wall.

5. What are you working on now?

I’m currently brainstorming on a couple of ideas. I don’t necessarily have the style or the complete composition. I always come into a painting with the end goal in mind of what I want to make, so I try to say what I need to say, try not to offend anybody even though you can’t please everybody. I try to do it to where it’s a well thought out message, not putting down anybody, more of uplifting everyone.