We are huge fans of RETNA’s works, and have loved watching his rapid ascent in the contemporary art market and beyond.
Last year, he designed the artwork for Justin Bieber’s latest album cover. Only recently, he featured in LA’s video pitch to host the Olympic Games in 2024. Now, he has been named as the San Francisco Opera’s newest artistic director. RETNA has been tasked with the production design of much-loved opera, Aida.
RETNA is better known as a Los Angeles-based graffiti artist, although his work takes him around the world. As well as street art, he now produces contemporary art pieces on canvas, some of which are on display in galleries and even homes of the rich and famous.
Marquis Duriel Lewis goes by his artistic name; RETNA. He headed up a graffiti crew and then a major art collective in LA. He chose not to attend art school as a result of these experiences. This choice clearly paid off, and RETNA soon became an international art sensation, working with major brands such as Nike, Louis Vuitton and Helmut Lang.
Now, he has the opportunity to branch out again into a new creative endeavour.
Aida is a tragic love story between enslaved Ethiopian princess and Egyptian army general. It was composed by Giuseppe Verdi in the 19th century for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, and is now one of the most famous operas in the world.
The San Francisco War Memorial Opera House broke from tradition six years ago, when it put on a production of Aida designed by eccentric English fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. Earlier this year, San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley hinted that this season’s rendition of Aida “will have an arresting new production design” once again.
Theatrical scenery is often a dramatic spectacle when it comes to operas, and introducing contemporary art into a more traditional discipline is a captivating concept.
Hieroglyphic artworks have an obvious connection to the setting of Aida. The ancient Egyptians developed hieroglyphs as one of the first known scripts, and the intricate designs appear to merge practical communications with complex aesthetic styles.
There are also numerous links between graffiti and hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphic graffiti has even been discovered within the walls of the Great Pyramid.
While graffiti is defined as “Writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly,” it is a fascinating archaeological phenomenon. Today, it has also become a widely-accepted form of contemporary art, and RETNA is in high demand to decorate buildings around LA and elsewhere.
RETNA has previously credited ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics as inspiration for his art, as well as traditional Native American symbols, Arabic script, gothic blackletter and the Hebrew alphabet.
He recently explained he has “always studied ancient cultures because I was born of mixed race, but I always felt I was part of the world.”
His unique mixture of scripts represents a kind of unity between cultures, and reflects the nature of LA as a cultural melting pot. Though his style resembles many different written languages, the writing does not belong to any one language.
“I want my text to feel universal,” RETNA claimed. “I want people from different cultures to all find some similarity in it — whether they can read it or not.”
MOCAtv referred to RETNA’s “uniquely curated alphabet” as “his own universal text by which to translate his emotions, dreams, and poetry.”
We’re proud to represent RETNA in the UK, and love to share his incredible works with the public. If you’re eager to see his pieces in person, please visit us at Maddox Gallery, Mayfair, in the heart of London and only steps away from Oxford Circus.
Maddox Gallery welcomes visitors from around the world. If you’re wondering how to buy contemporary art as an investment, our expert art consultants are always on hand to discuss any potential purchases.
Written by James Nicholls, Managing Director and Curator, Maddox Gallery.