Acrylic on canvas
Retna has become an “eternal broadcaster” of sorts, shining a light to the kinetic urban soul of Los Angeles. Retna’s street artwork merges photography with graffiti style and paint, time with color, couture with street culture, the spiritual with the sensual, and fluidity with grit.
Known for his distinctive hieroglyphs melding ancient Incan, Egyptian, Arabic, Hebrew and Asian calligraphy with graffiti, RETNA has created a written language unto himself. RETNA draws dialogue with his imagery in his paintings.
The street and studio artist Retna, born Marquis Lewis, picked his moniker from the lyrics of a Wu Tang song that resonated with him in his youth. Retna explains that he was inspired to pursue art after seeing graffiti on the freeway, and his practice now includes street art and painting on canvas. Retna has become known for his long and geometric script, which he developed while looking towards Egyptian and Native American traditional symbols. Though his marks resemble the calligraphy of multiple cultures (and he maintains that he composes his works in English and Spanish), the writing does not belong to a particular language. Retna explains, “I want my text to feel universal. I want people from different cultures to all find some similarity in it—whether they can read it or not.”
RETNA became just as notorious for his ornate painting technique as his timeless style: he used paintbrushes mixed with the traditional spray can. Many of his pieces synthesize the line between fine art and graffiti, between power and opposition, between tradition and advancement, between the past and future. In 2000, he had his first group exhibition at the Contemporary Corruption Show at 01 Gallery in Los Angeles. He released his “Men of the Cloth” series at the Mendenhall Sobieski gallery in Pasadena, California in 2006.
Today, Retna traverses between the galleries and streets with ease. In addition to being aligned with the Art Work Rebels and Mad Society Kings Art Groups, he is a member of the internationally exclusive art collective, The Seventh Letter, whose influence on contemporary street art encompasses the globe.