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Before becoming a mainstay of the graffiti scene, Retna — then still known by his birth name, Marquis Lewis — spent his childhood moving between various Los Angeles suburbs. Furthering his interest in street art with each move, his work also began to draw on influences from his family’s roots in African American, South American and Native American countries. He began tagging at the age of 9, and adopted his first moniker, A1, the following year, in honor of his steak condiment of choice.
While leading a street art crew in LA during his late teens, Lewis adopted the tag Retna in 1997, at the age of 18. The name was inspired by a line in the Wu-Tang Clan song ‘Heaterz’ which particularly resonated with him: “Kinetic globes light when it shine, burns your retina”. His time working with this crew, and his stint shortly after with a larger street art collective, also led to his decision not to further his academic study of art, instead gaining his education in graffiti directly from the streets.
Retna has told the press that his particular interest in typography came as “a direct result of [his] graffiti background…bridging the gap between graffiti art and fine art.” His style draws on a range of different scripts from around the world, including Old English, Hebrew, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Sanskrit. This is combined with more modern art influences from the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Gustav Klimt, developing over time into an approach that is uniquely the artist’s own.
Despite developing his working practices in the streets of Los Angeles, Retna’s art quickly became accepted by the mainstream. His work has been used in commercials and for album artwork, including decorating the flagship Los Angeles branch of the Nike store and working on designs for the stage sets and costumes of two seperate productions of the Verdi opera Aida. He also created the unique characters which adorn the artwork of Justin Beiber’s 2015 album Purpose, exposing his work to millions of new fans worldwide.
Retna’s work has also been exhibited and sold at major galleries across the United States and Europe. His 2013 piece Quiero Mis Amigos De Regresso sold for $35,000 in 2016, marking his most expensive piece sold at auction to date. Here at ArtLife, we have a series of exclusive Retna art for sale, including a range of Untitled pieces painted in 2020, reflecting the artist’s state of mind during the Coronavirus pandemic. If you have any inquiries about these works, or Retna’s work in general, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today.