Cali Thornhill DeWitt Loves His Uncle Vic
There are a million different ways to encounter the creative output of Cali Thornhill DeWitt. For some, he’s the boot-legging impresario behind the Kanye West Life of Pablo merchandise phenomenon. For others, he’s the model-in-drag emblazoned on the CD of Nirvana’s In Utero (and former nanny to Kurt and Courtney’s daughter Frances Bean Cobain).
DeWitt is the founder of punk record label Teenage Teardrops, and an artist, designer, photographer, blogger, and music video director. He designed a sweatshirt memorial to Sissi-starlet Romy Schneider for 032c. Lean, tanned, and tattoo-clad, the 45-year-old speaks with the warm demeanour of a well-traveled stoner, though he doesn’t smoke weed and prefers to stay in his beloved LA. This week, Kanye teased a new collaborative t-shirt series with DeWitt and jailed rapper Lil Pump on Instagram. Later this year, DeWitt’s work will appear in Miami as part of Good Taste, an exhibition series co-curated by Katja Horvat and Paige Silveria. Here, Horvat asks him five questions, and DeWitt introduces his Uncle Vic.
How do you think you’ve changed over the years?
I’m pretty different, I think – though I have a lot of the same interests. The main difference is that when I was a kid I really believed in getting fucked up. Thankfully I came to my senses. I’ve been sober for 17 years now.
Is there a medium you’d like to try, but haven’t?
I would love to make a movie. I have a few ideas lined up, but the main one I feel is kinda getting away from me – well, not getting away from me exactly, I just should have been doing it this whole time.
My uncle called me six years ago. He said he wanted to come to stay with me for a week and has been living in my backyard ever since. He’s a junk collector. There’s so much crap surrounding my house. I feel like he would make great content. He’s super unusual and everyone loves him. For example, after the punk band Iceage met him, they put him in three of their music videos. Then there were situations where he would just pull up at the house and have Sky Ferreira in the car. He’s the best and I should have been filming. It’s also funny living with my dad’s little brother. One of my first memories of him was when we moved to LA. I was four at the time. He drove the moving truck, so I was in the car with him and his girlfriend. My parents gave him money for hotels, but he kept that and made me sleep on the floor of the car. He and his girlfriend would sleep on the bench, and they would fuck all the time while I was supposed to be asleep.
Let’s talk about your transition into art. Even though you’ve been creating work for years, you didn’t begin thinking of yourself as an artist until recently. Why not?
I think I was nervous. I always felt uncomfortable putting myself out there, so I had normal jobs, which would kind of be my profession. That all changed around six years ago. An offer came for a residency in Switzerland. It sounded so exotic to me. Usually I would say no, but then I started to think, why I am making these decisions? Why am I saying no to things like this while being stuck at a job I don’t want to do? So I made the decision and so far so good.
How has traveling affected your practice?
Traveling gives you a broader perspective. It gives you more experiences to work with. It makes the conversation bigger. But the best thing is actually the people, knowing that you’ve made relationships in all these places that you wouldn’t have made otherwise. I have a shitload of friends that I didn’t have before – ones I genuinely care about. I know it sounds super corny, but it’s true!
For a while you couldn’t travel for legal reasons, right?
My green card was lost. My passport was stolen. I had . . . a drug arrest here and there. There were all these legal loopholes that seemed bigger to me than they actually were. In the end I didn’t leave the country for 20 years – from 1994 to 2013. Luckily I live in LA and I love it here. I’ve almost always lived here and LA is probably one of the best places to be stuck in.
Finally, what’s the longest you’ve ever gone without sleep?
Probably about seven days. This was in my early 20s, and was the result of speed. Those memories aren’t the best ones. I was going crazy. I remember I lost a tooth, and decided to leave things as they were so people could hear my thoughts through the hole. Then I started walking around with my tongue in my tooth hole, hiding my thoughts from everybody. Such a weird contrast to now as now I’m super into sleeping! I get eight or nine hours of sleep a night. I am also into naps! I usually take one every day. The thing about naps is – for a nap to be official, it has to be in your underwear, under the covers, in bed. Falling asleep in a car or whatever . . . that’s not a nap.