Cali DeWitt, the artist behind LA’s Hope Gallery and the record label Teenage Teardrops, gives us insight into his unique vision and aesthetic. From his dark sense of humor to his loyalty to family and friends, DeWitt seems to have a hand in every aspect of the creative universe he inhabits.
With upcoming exhibitions in Copenhagen and Paris, artist Cali DeWitt is a busy man. Seemingly impossible to tire, DeWitt constructs visual art, runs a record label and somehow finds time to photograph his friends and family. His output is staggering in volume, and although it’s not the most even body of work, it is thoroughly consistent with the artist’s unique world view. DeWitt recently sat down to answer some of our questions about his take on it all.
You release music, write for publications, shoot photographs, DJ on the radio, and design clothes. What drives you to get up in the morning and create in such high volume? Is it not exhausting?
Sometimes its exhausting, But what else would I do with my time? It doesn’t feel so much like drive as it feels like a desire to learn more and to enjoy my life, and not to waste any time.
Looking through some of your blog posts, two things really jumped out at me. One was the “Crying at the Orgy” Sign, and the other was a “Ready to Die” reference. Would you say that the former was a fair representation of your sense of humor? Both slogans reveal an affinity for words and pop culture – do you think good writing will remain relevant in the future?
I think good writing will always remain relevant. There will always be someone who tells a good story. “Crying At The Orgy” is definitely within the realm of my sense of humor. The idea of standing in the middle of an orgy crying is like a cartoon joke. When I thought of that though, I was really thinking of some kind of orgy of consumerism, like a riot at a mall on Black Friday, grownups wrestling and fist-fighting over the last selfie stick or whatever.
The same sense of humor applies to a T-shirt of yours that I recently saw that had the words “Cease to Exist” on it. Would you consider yourself a sort of new-age renaissance man or more of a joker?
Neither. “Cease To Exist” is a Charles Manson reference and the front pocket is in code.
Your pictures are often grainy, and while they are never as lurid in subject as, say a Larry Clark photo essay, there is still a certain vulgarity to them. At the same time, your composition is beautiful. What does that juxtaposition reveal?
Oh, I think any vulgarity that seeps through is just because life is vulgar. My life is vulgar. Being a human is unavoidably vulgar and my pics are not glammed up at all. I don’t really think about any juxtaposition, I just want to see it all in its natural state.
There seems to be a recurring cast of characters in your photography, first and foremost your wife. But then people like Henry Rollins will pop into the frame and disappear again. Is that the nature of living in LA, or do you only photograph friends?
Most of the people in the pics are friends and family. It’s just who I am with and what I am doing and the people I am doing it with. The Rollins one was just one of those things – he happened to be where I was at right then.
On that note, you’ve described your label “Teenage Teardrops” as an umbrella for friends and family. Does that not become a liability ever?
Never a liability, except for maybe financially. It’s the most unprofessional label and I have no interest in editing anyone I work with.
Where did the name “Teenage Teardrops” come from? LA seems to be a place where teenage angst finds its most potent expression – do you think that’s fair?
Yeah the name was an idea from eight years ago, watching a crying teen and thinking that its the most emotional and really worst part of anyone’s life.
I saw a poster of yours that had John Hinckley on it with the title “Let’s give him a shot at the presidency.” Would you say your work has a political component? If not, perhaps a prerogative to shock?
The Hinckley poster I did not make. I wish I had made it! That’s something that was made around the time Reagan was shot. I don’t know who by. But it is in line with my sense of humor. And I don’t mind shocking someone, but I don’t think any of it should come as shocking. They are just ideas and images based in fact, the truth about how people treat each other. As for whether or not it’s political, I think everything is political. How you choose to live and interact is political. Everything is.
You seem to be quite comfortable using pieces of iconography in your art (e.g. photographs of the LA river culvert)? Would you say there was something inherently “meta” about making art in this day and age?
I just think that found/sourced/googled images are another tool. It’s like a new type of pen or camera.
You and your wife run “Witch Hat” – your shared website. Do you ever fight over it?
Ah, we don’t really have any antagonism, Jenna and I. It works because we are both comfortable with ourselves, and who the other is. Of course we are not exactly alike but who is? Our job is to encourage each other to be ourselves and to feel safe doing that.
Could you give us some background information on your development as an artist? Have you always been in the creative scene?
I think its an ongoing thing, and the creative impulse has always been there in different ways. It’s an absolute luxury to be able to devote any time to art, and I am incredibly aware of that.
I’ve seen you make mention of skating. How big a component is skating in your life now – are you ever still on a board? Are there elements of the life that you have incorporated elsewhere?
I will skateboard to the store maybe. It’s rare that I do it anymore. But I grew up on a skateboard and I think that helps shape the way you look at things. The last few years I am more into riding my bike than anything. Sometimes the only time I will drive my car in a week is to move it to the opposite side of the street for street-sweeping.
In another interview that you’ve given, I saw that you like reading The New Yorker. Would you say you have eclectic taste in reading material?
Yeah, I read everything. I like to read. I don’t think The New Yorker is eclectic – it’s just good. Right now I am reading a book of interviews called Addicts That Survived. All interviews with old (like 80) junkies about their lives. Really good. Last week I read the unfinished Jeffrey Lee Pierce biography.
Let’s talk a little about your upcoming shows. Will these be your first exhibitions in Europe? How do these things get set up? Do you express an interest to do a show, or does someone get in touch with you to do one?
This show at V1 in Copenhagen is my first solo show in Europe. I am really honored and grateful for the opportunity. They were introduced to me by a mutual friend. Generally that’s how it goes. Somehow you wind up connecting and you begin talking about possibilities. Mikkel and Jesper from V1 and I have quite a few friends in common and similar interests. Ideally I will only show with people who I would naturally be friends with. I have another show coming in Paris, May 6, at Galerie Derouillon, curated by my friend Michael Dupouy.
What would the ideal visitor take away from this current exhibition?
A strong emotion. Doesn’t really matter which one, I like them all.
Plans for the future?
Keep getting my mind blown forever.