Cali Thornhill Dewitt

A searing, post-punk testament to the millennial condition.

Cali Thornhill Dewitt leaning against an American flag with his hands in his pockets
artist's studio with rolls of coloured paper, a sewing machine and fabric covering the shelves and desk surfaces
Cali Thornhill Dewitt with a cigarette in his mouth holding up a round painting of a globe
7 images

Cali Thornhill DeWitt (real name Michael DeWitt) was born in 1973 on Vancouver Island, Canada, and now lives and works in Los Angeles, USA.

Collaborations

In 2016, Dewitt collaborated with Kanye West to design his Yeezy Season 3 collection and promote the then-upcoming album The Life of Pablo.

Did you know?

Once employed as a nanny to Frances Bean Cobain (Kurt Cobain's daughter), the artist has since become a music industry mainstay - co-founding record label Teenage Teardrops and designing album artwork for bands including King Tuff and Destruction Unit.

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Practice overview

Dewitt is a cult artist who spans many worlds. His DIY aesthetic pairs photographic imagery, often of war or aerial shots of the planet, with darkly humorous slogans such as “PANIC ATTACK,” “CRISIS SUPPORT” and “PEOPLE ARE THE PROBLEM.” Dewitt’s style and attitude evoke his grungy-glam past making band posters and album covers in the 1990s, as well as going on tour with Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain as a nanny for their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. Throughout his career, Dewitt has been a driving force in popular taste. Among countless brand collaborations, his famed merchandise for Kanye West’s Life of Pablo has been a leading force of contemporary Goth revival in both art and fashion, from alternative labels to high-street stores. Thus, Dewitt’s harsh critique of consumer culture is a subversive social activism: his brash punk-poetry disseminated across the globe in the criss-crossing worlds of art, fashion, music, and celebrity culture.

The American flag is a key motif throughout Dewitt’s oeuvre, carrying with it the weight of it’s symbolism: nationalism, capitalism, colonialism, global power, and, of course, the American dream. Dewitt’s 2016 solo show 29 Flags at Eighteen in Copenhagen presented rows of American flags hung from the ceiling. Each flag defaced by text documenting sensationalised moments of American history: the JFK assassination, impending nuclear war, the Manson Family murders, and the media hype of serial killer Richard Ramirez - dubbed the ‘Night Stalker’ - whose press coverage led Dewitt to sleep with a knife under his pillow when he was a child. By re-contextualizing such events, Dewitt highlights the power of mass media to impact personal sensations of fear, which inevitably influences individual opinions, choices and prejudices. As a result, Dewitt inserts the experience of the individual into collective political events, challenging us to critique our own thoughts and how they are constituted.

Dewitt’s work is incredibly current, both in form and content. His eye-catching compositions and cut-and-paste aesthetic, imitate the punchlines of contemporary meme culture. In addition, Dewitt confronts many issues, such as mental health and the environmental crisis, that have long been urgent but only in recent years have garnered significant public attention. Thus, Dewitt’s practice captures the essence of the millennial generation: an acute social awareness driven by a dissatisfaction with the inequalities and self-sabotaging tendencies of the human race. Yet, through his deeply critical and thoughtful work, Dewitt presents - ironically - a promising form of hope and optimism: a sentiment suggesting that if we are prepared to learn from the worst of the world, then there is endless potential to change it.

“Everyone should challenge corruption and power. If I see people pushing back I’m always happy, always hopeful.”Cali Thornhill Dewitt