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.

  • Interview
    Katja Horvat
  • Portrait
    Lukas Gansterer

Related Content

  • Deeper

  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c Cosmic Workshop Belt

    Buy Now
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c COSMIC WORKSHOP "Maria" Longsleeve Grey

    Buy Now
  • Life Exists: Theaster Gates’ Black Image Corporation

    Theaster Gates' “The Black Image Corporation” presents photographs from the holdings of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, a sprawling archive that shaped “the aesthetic and cultural languages of contemporary African American identity.” Gates approached the project as a celebration and activation of the black image in Milan through photographs of women photographed by Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton – of black entrepreneurship and legacy-making. “Life exists” in the Johnson archive, he says, just as it exists and should be honored in other places of black creativity.More
  • FRIDA ESCOBEDO: The Era of the Starchitect is Over

    Rising Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is relentlessly inquisitive, eschewing stylistic constants in favour of an overriding preoccupation with shifting dynamics. Personal curiosity is the driving force behind her practice, which makes he an outlier in a profession dominated by extroverted personalities keen on making bold assertions. "I think it really is a generational shift," Escobedo says. "The idea of the starchitect making grand gestures with huge commissions is over."More
  • “I live a hope despite my knowing better”: James Baldwin in Conversation With Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)

    Born in Berlin in 1931, editor and writer Fritz J. Raddatz relied on food delivered by African American GIs after the death of his parents. To Baldwin he was an “anti-Nazi German who has the scars to prove it.” Debating his return to the USA after 25 years, Baldwin explores the political climate in America at the end of the 1970s in a conversation at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.More
  • House as Archive: James Baldwin’s Provençal Home

    For her new book, Magdalena J. Zaborowska visited the house Baldwin occupied from 1971 to 1987 “to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity”. Here, she narrates her early journeys to Baldwin’s home and proposes a salve for its recent loss: a virtual presentation of Baldwin’s home and effects.More
  • Where are the real investments? Theaster Gates on James Baldwin

    The Chicago-based artist talks to Victoria Camblin about materializing the past, the house as museum, and preserving black legacies. Social and artistic engagement, Gates suggests, may allow the contents and spirit of Baldwin’s home, and others like it, to settle in lived experience.More