Cali Thornhill Dewitt → Sex Comedy

May 6th - 31st, 2015

Galerie Derouillon, Haut Marais

La Galerie Derouillon a le plaisir de présenter la première exposition de l'artiste californien Cali Thornhill DeWitt à Paris.

Installé à Los Angeles, Cali Thornhill DeWitt, prend part à l’effervesence d’une nouvelle scène artistique californienne qui conforte clairement le déplacement de l’épicentre de l’art contemporain new-yorkais sur la côte Ouest. Cette première exposition monographique en France est l’occasion de faire se rencontrer conceptualisme des années 60 et codes publicitaires, parangons de notre génération. Comme Robert Barry, Cali Thornhill met en effet en scène des ensembles textuels. Très vite, il leur appose un nom : des “signs” [...]. Cali Thornhill DeWitt quotidiennement, glane autour de lui, dans la presse, sur internet, sur les murs de la ville, ces phrases écrites qu’il érige en “thèmes de campagne” artistique. Ici sur un drapeau, là sur une pancarte en plastique qui aurait pu servir à la promotion d’un Fast Food. [...]

Ces slogans, accolés aux images choisies avec un certain sarcasme sonnent comme une injonction immédiate à la réflexion. C’est un fait, Cali Thornill DeWitt s’intéresse à la chose politique, il dira lui-même “tout est politique”. De l’art sans combat, très peu pour lui. Dans une iconographie mêlant éléments de sub-culture et imagerie publicitaire dévoyée, il montre du doigt une société folle, ivre d’elle-même, prise au piège par ses propres désirs.

Extrait du texte de Léa Chauvel-Lévy publié à l'occasion de l'exposition.

Photographies : Anais Nieto

Interview par Léa Chauvel-Levy

Léa Chauvel-Lévy : What is your background ? How and at which period in your life did you turn to art as a means of expression? What was the socio-political context in which that expression grew (was there a personal context, were you going through a personal transformation)?

I was born in Canada and Moved with my family to Los Angeles when I was 3 yrs old. I come from a creative family and artistic expression came naturally at a young age. I dropped out of school when I was 16 and spent the next 10+ years a dedicated drug user. I found my way back from that and it often feels like i've gotten to live more than one life.

Your work eludes to a form of social activism and anti-consumerism but the presence of flowers also exhudes hope, softness. How do you explain the mix between a aborder-line punk rebellious language and an underlined romantic message ? Is it sarcasm? A form of sarcasm?

The flowers are mostly meant to mark an end - a funeral, something on a tombstone at a memorial. I suppose there is a form of sarcasm in much of the work, but yes, there is also romance. Survival is romantic.

How do you choose your fabric, your core materials ? Is it plastic, vynil ? Do you paint and / or print the messages on the signs? Is the flower series painted, if so could you descibe the process?

Most of the signs and much of the work is made out of plastic and vinyl. The ultimate indestructible modern garbage. It's made out of material that is destroying the planet. It's toxic material that is thrown away but doesn't erode. It's the material that creates floating trash islands in the ocean. It's permanent material, so I try to make something permanent with it. The flower series is made by printing the flowers on canvas with inkjet printers, then I paint the text on.

Where do you place yourself in relation to Barbara Kruger’s work?

I love Barbara Krugers work. I wouldn't place myself anywhere near her, I don't have that kind of ego. I have a huge respect for her work and have been aware of it for as long as I can remember.

How do the slogans you write come to you?
Almost all of them come from reading and taking notes. From reading books and newspapers to reading billboards all day long.

Your slogans come from street lingo sometimes. Have you experienced life on the streets ?

Life on the streets, probably more than some. I live in Los Angeles and I am out in the world, living in it. I wouldn't pretend to be anything I am not though. The fact is I am a white male living in America and you don't get much more privileged than that. Any time I spend on the streets or whatever is my own choice, or because of decisions I've made that put me there.

What is your position on advertisment ? Your work could be considered as advertisement ? Is that your way of opposing or criticize it?

I am criticizing it in a way sure, but I also find it fascinating and I love it as much as I am sickened by it. I am deeply influenced by advertising and much of what I make should clearly look like an advertisement for modern life.

The flags set up as a cross: does that point to christianity or does it represent a lost American dream?
I think of them more as a target.

Your sweatshirts are not just sweatshirts, they are portable works of art. Is that Keith Harring inspired?

I love Keith Haring but the sweatshirts aren't directly influenced by him. They are influenced by Los Angeles gang sweatshirts of the 80's and early 90's. I always found them incredibly powerful, and when they started to disappear because the technology and styles changed, I wanted to keep them alive in my own way.

Where do you find the plastic and vynil you use? Is that recycled? Where does it come from and does its origin mean something?

I use an industrial sign maker downtown and he has all the material. It's definitely not recycled. When I am not working with him he is making signs out of the same materials for every cheap store and taco truck in downtown LA.

Do you sow the flags together yourself? And where do you find them?

I do not do the sewing myself, I work with a professional seamstress - I am not gifted on the sewing machine. I buy them from a wholesale shop downtown that also sells party supplies, or I get them at yardsales, pull them off of rooftops. I can always use more flags.