The model known as Gil has become a fixture in streetwear lookbooks, on Instagram, and at the intersection of Fairfax and Rosewood. Before any of that, he grew up riding dirtbikes and hustling in LA’s El Sereno neighborhood. Now, under the moniker of Gil Veni Vici, he’s ready to show his creative side with East Side Story, his collaboration with the HVW8 Gallery that opens on Friday, September 23. Gil teamed with 17 photographers—including Estevan Oriol, Spanto, Adri Law, and Steve Olson—to showcase the spirit and culture of his neighborhood. Earlier this week Gil sat down with us to talk about paying homage to his community, gentrification, and psychedelics.
What can you tell me about East Side Story
First I went with 13 artists. If you’re Mexican, 13 is a big number.
Can you explain what the number 13 signifies?
Southside, that’s what we represent. We’re all united, Mexican people culture. Most gangs they write, they put the number 13. You can’t just write that, you got to get honor. It’s a big number, it’s an important number. I went with 13 artists and started getting more.
I started maybe six months ago. I talked to Tyler Gibney, he owns HVW8 gallery. I talked to him and I wanted 13 photographers with photos of myself. I wanted to creative direct. As I started to get going with the project, 13 photographers wasn’t enough because I have a lot more friends than 13 friends. One of the people I wanted to work with was Estevan Oriol, legendary photographer, he represented Los Angeles in a legendary way. So I hit him up. We just got done doing the shoot where I grew up in East LA, in the city of El Sereno. It’s like north of East LA, close to Lincoln Heights and Highland Park,.
What else is featured in East Side Story?
Photos of friends. I consider them like family, a lot of them. [There’s] people I hang out with, like on the weekends, someone I’ll have dinner with, you know, talk to and try to guide me through the right direction, ask for advice. [There’s] people I want to work with, and at the same time I figured I’d involve my friends and family on this project. Not everybody’s as legendary as Estevan Oriol, but in my mind they are.
Are you concerned about gentrification coming to East LA?
You know how people give a fuck about gentrification? I don’t. I like it, it brings good food and hot bitches. That’s my thing. Hot bitches and good food.
Do you see a lot of artists moving in and galleries setting up in your neighborhood?
Nah, not really. In El Sereno, most of the people bought their houses and there are not too many apartments, so you know it’s harder to get in. But I grew up there.
I’m gonna do installations [for East Side Story], I’m going to bring a bunch of dirt bikes. You can ride dirt bikes and quads and shit around where I grew up. We also have this racer, it’s like a car, it’s sick. It’s the first one Yamaha ever made. I don’t even have a car, man.
Are the cops cool with you riding it on the streets?
They’ll tell you to chill, but they’re not really tripping. They’ve got bigger shit to worry about than a kid riding a bike. They’ll just tell you to put on a helmet.
Did you see a lot of gang activity growing up in East LA?
When you grow up, there’s shooting all the time, there’s drive-bys on Thanksgiving. Witnessing just gives you a different perspective on life, you know shit can happen really fast. That’s why I started evolving as an adult, as a man, and wanting to do better, not for only myself, but for my family. I want to do better for my culture and for all of East LA, just give them an idea that you can do different stuff. You don’t have to be a rapper,. There’s a lot of jobs out there in the industry that do not necessarily have to do with modeling.
When did you break through in your modeling career?
Maybe in like 2010 or 2011. I didn’t choose to be a model. I used to hate taking photos as a kid, like I would turn away, act really shy when they asked me. I started modeling for small brands, and then I did this lookbook for The Hundreds. From there it went on with everybody seeing me. I guess it works like that for a couple years, but my time lasted for a long time. I’m still doing work, I just did a shoot for Undefeated and Adidas.
Are you trying to transition from modeling to a different career path?
Creative directing, there’s different things. I just want to be a businessman. I eventually want to open a restaurant, I want to do my own clothing line. That’s why I’m doing this art show, to pay homage to my city first before I do anything.
Why are you going by Gil Vini Vici?
When I was in high school, there was this dude, this cool ass teacher. You could smoke weed in his class, he wasn’t tripping about nothing. We had a substitute maybe and we put on like a movie and it was like “veni, vidi, vici,” or some shit. That means “I came, I saw, I conquered” in Italian I believe. It’s like, Gil came and conquered.
Do you do a lot of LSD?
Yeah, I did a good amount. I got a couple trips under my belt. It’s pretty fun, you know, see the world in a different perspective.
Which do you prefer, downers, uppers, or psychedelics?
I like weed, I like some of the lean. I’m not into Xanax, I’m not into too much lean. I’m not an upper guy, I’m not really a coke dude. But yeah, I fuck with acid. I like the trip, I like to hallucinate, I like to test my brain.
I’ve never tried acid before.
You should try it, it’s amazing. You’ve just got to do it with some good friends and you’ll be alright, even if you’re struggling. It’s all about mind power.
I got stuck in a DUI checkpoint with no license. Me and the homie got pulled over at the checkpoint and the cop told us to pull over to the side. I had a suspended license and the trip just started hitting me. First the cop said that we had to put the joint out. The homie put that joint out and we weren’t even smoking, but we were so trippy already that we didn’t even deny it. The cop tells us to get out of the car, and I was tripping, my legs are shaking, I’m sitting down. Then they cuffed me, they put me in the back of the car and I’m thinking that’s a wrap. Then I’m looking at the screen, everything is blurry, and I’m trying to look at the cop like I’m normal. Then he takes me out of the car, I have to walk this fucking straight line. Somehow I walk the straight line, but my legs were a little shaky. I’m lying to his ass, I’m like, “I’m a little nervous.” Then he makes me do this test where you got to put your finger on your nose and count to 30 and pick up your legs. I’m thinking I’m going fast or slow, I’m not sure. Real shit, I don’t know how I passed it, but I pass it. It was crazy as fuck. Then we just got away and then went to the beach. My trip was all fucked up after that. I didn’t do acid for a while.
You got to have a strong brain, you got to really know yourself, just go with it. I don’t like ketamine, because you’re stuck and you’re just like, “Fuck, I can’t move.” One time at Coachella I thought I was doing coke, and it was K. So then I got stuck. I’m trying to leave this party, it’s not cracking, but I just wasn’t moving, It tests your brain. Then shrooms are just different, you swear you know it all, and then after, you don’t know shit.