At first glance, the work of the artist Retna looks like an undiscovered ancient script: a series of hypnotic symbols, complex, beautiful and captivating. But Retna has created an original alphabet, fusing together influences from ancient Incan and Egyptian hieroglyphics, Arabic, Hebrew, Asian calligraphy, and graffiti. Each piece carries meaning, conveying an event or dialogue that the artist experienced.
As a youth of African-American, El Salvadorian and Cherokee descent growing up in Los Angeles, Retna (real name Marquis Lewis) was mesmerized by the gang graffiti that surrounded him. He began practicing the art form, and adopted the name Retna from a Wu-Tang Clan song. In the mid-nineties he began making murals on walls, trains and freeway overpasses throughout the city.
Retna has transformed from a street artist to a break-out star in the contemporary art world. He has garnered attention from Usher, an R&B artist, who commissioned the artist to create a portrait of Marvin Gaye, and MOCA director Jeffrey Deitc.
This week's 'On the Streets' focuses on the subtle humour and finer elegance of street art. The pieces that caught our attention, located mostly in NYC and London, are all conceptually fresh, original and have something of a Duchampian aura.
Leading off is this brilliant Jilly Ballistic 'Exit' paste-up somewhere deep in the Brooklyn subway. Well-known for her intelligent, full of humour interventions, the artist continuously put thought-provoking anti-advertisements or into fine-looking collages, not being afraid to speak out; pasting stickers of gas-masked nurses and WWII soldiers. The result is more than satisfying. Image via the artist.
Other notable pieces come from Mobstr in London, Pose and Joei Urato in NYC, Cyrcle in London, Anthony Lister in Melbourne, Nunca in Paris and Borondo back in London.