“It is important to have art in the streets as a cultural fabric that is woven into the city for the upliftment of civic pride. Awareness of the Arts which every great nation and city contains is a long tradition that we are grateful to be a part of”. - RETNA
American street and graffiti artist RETNA is famous for his iconic typographic compositions, across a range of media from photography, painting, sculpture, and graffiti; all of which explore an underlying unity between different cultures. His artworks fuse visual references to fashion, various types of linguistics and calligraphy including Blackletter, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Arabic, and Hebrew, as well as symbols from urban culture into powerful and often monochromatic images. He is one of the highest-selling street artists working today with numerous impressive auction results under his belt, with exhibitions across venues, institutions and galleries in Los Angeles, Miami, London and Hong Kong.
Marquis Lewis was born in 1979 in Los Angeles with a blended cultural heritage, being of African-American, El Salvadorian, Spaniard, Pipil and Cherokee descent. Choosing the moniker RETNA from the lyrics to a Wu-Tang Clan song, Lewis joined the buzzing graffiti scene of the city as a teenager, developing his now signature calligraphic style that features a keen attention to detail and skilful layering. The incorporation of text into his later artworks is a direct result of his background in graffiti art. The artist uses a paintbrush in addition to a spray can in order to paint intricate lines and give the finished work an intuitive and dynamic, yet precisely composed effect. Since emerging on the scene, he has been renowned for many publicly and privately commissioned murals in New York, Miami, Mexico City and Los Angeles, as well as for numerous collaborations with famous brands such as Louis Vuitton, Nike and VistaJet. His gradual transition into the contemporary art world was marked by the group exhibition Art in the Streets, hosted by the LA Museum of Contemporary Art in 2011. This was followed by an invitation by the same museum in 2013 for the artist to create an installation for the show RETNA: Para mi gente.
Another notable exhibition was The Future of the Past: Mummies and Medicine (2016) at the San Francisco Legion of Honor, showcasing a large-scale installation of RETNA’s calligraphic paintings, contextualized within ancient Egyptian culture and spirituality. His artwork was featured as the album cover of Justin Bieber’s Purpose, released in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, he was the artistic designer for the reimagined production of the famous opera AIDA at the San Francisco and Washington National Opera houses.
Among his eclectic range of influences for his contemporary text-based works, RETNA cites Renaissance imagery, medieval manuscripts, Art Nouveau and 20th century urban artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. With a practice rooted in varied typographic forms, RETNA works from a hybrid alphabet consisting of Egyptian hieroglyphs, Arabic calligraphy to Blackletter, making the content of his artworks indecipherable and enigmatic. He creates unique pictographic landscapes that celebrates the idea of multiculturalism and interconnection, while exploring the possibilities of conceptual meaning within the image, revealing new ways of understanding and perceiving visual codes.
RETNA continues to be amongst the most prolific and successful graffiti artists working today, as well as one of the most coveted. His artworks continue to fetch high prices at international auction houses. His early works such as Shadows of Light (2012) and Sad to See (2012), both featuring his signature calligraphic lines, are amongst his highest-selling works. Notable exhibitions include his solo exhibition at Maddox Gallery in London entitled MARGRAVES (2017), LA Art Machine in Los Angeles and Don Gallery in Milan among others. Works such as Margraves (2017), Shit’s all fucked up (2017) and This one’s been untitled (2017) fuse more abstract expressionist tropes into RETNA’s usual geometric style, layering his enigmatic calligraphy with more fluid, colourful lines and textures.