Marquis Lewis, more popularly known as Retna, is an American born street and studio artist primarily recognised for his graffiti murals. His work merges traditional street graffiti with a self-constructed geometric script which fuses ancient Incan and Egyptian hieroglyphics with Arabic, Hebrew and Asian calligraphy. Retna’s urban LA upbringing with his African-American heritage along with his mixing of colour, spirituality and sensuality is keeping us hungry for more. Retna is officially taking the contemporary art market by storm.
As an African-American youth from El Salvadorian and Cherokee descent, Retna moved through several cities in Los Angeles and immersed himself in the graffiti that surrounded him. He was only nine years old when he first started using spray paint for graffiti, now Retna can be seen in galleries and streets as diverse as Los Angeles, Miami, London, New York and Hong Kong. It is no wonder that Retna is thriving in the current market as his hypnotic works are a spectacle– both bewildering and beautiful, he draws together both personal anecdotes and existential thoughts while reflecting them back onto his audience. Our involvement in Retna’s work is twofold, not only that of mesmerising the viewer but dissolving hierarchy through his compelling script work. In Retna’s compositions, a feeling of universality is at its core. He stated in an interview with MOCAtv in 2012, “We’re all one people, we just grew up in different places and the art really unifies people for me. I decided to just be from the world, rather than from that area or a place or this race” and that’s exactly what this script represents. While Retna has confirmed his script is closest to both Spanish and English, he has condensed dialogue down into its core– bringing us not only to a more primal place but at an equal distance to the work as everyone else around us.
With a strong dialogue, a fluid aesthetic and a deep personal identity interspersed throughout the works, Retna is touching those from every background. With his work being renowned as predominantly more verbal than visual, we’re all at a place of decoding to reach the most intimate parts of what Retna is working to share with us. He has told us that the stories are memories, conversations and even reactions to other written dialogue. Ranging from scripts including Spanish curses his mother called him when he was being a troublesome child through to contemplating the presence of death in our lives and honouring those who have passed away.
Today, Retna traverses between the galleries and streets with ease. In addition to being a collaborator of fashion brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Nike, his work is now in the private collections of Jeffrey Deitch, Swizz Beats and Usher among many others. According to Widewall records, Retna’s work consistently overachieves at auction, with a successful bid on one of his works at $180,000 at the Clara Lionel Foundation Diamond Ball last year in 2017. He’s aligned with the Art Work Rebels and Mad Society Kings Art Groups and is a member of the internationally exclusive art collective, The Seventh Letter, whose influence on contemporary street art encompasses the globe.
Distassi Art Team