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Retna, Wynwood Walls
Marquis Lewis

(1979-03-24) March 24, 1979 (age 42)
Known forcalligraphy, graffiti art

RETNA (born Marquis Lewis 1979) is a contemporary artist, primarily recognized for graffiti art. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and started his career in the early 1990s. He developed a distinctive constructed script which is derived from Blackletter, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Arabic, and Hebrew calligraphy, as well as more traditional types of street-based graffiti. In addition to exhibiting at institutions and galleries in Los Angeles, Miami, London, New York and Hong Kong, Retna has done advertising work for brands such as VistaJet, Louis Vuitton, and Nike. His artwork adorns the cover of Justin Bieber's Purpose album that debuted in 2015.

Early life[edit]

Born Marquis Lewis in 1979 in Los Angeles, he has African-American, Salvadoran and Cherokee ancestry. As a child, Lewis moved between several schools in the L.A. area, becoming more involved in graffiti culture at each location. In 1996, he chose the name Retna from a Wu-Tang Clan lyric.



Retna cites eclectic artistic influences, such as illuminated manuscripts, Renaissance imagery, and contemporary text-based art. Religious architecture and décor have long been a focus of his. He has mentioned Degas, Klimt, Basquiat, Haring and the Art Nouveau movement as historical references. Particular to his graffiti writing, Saber and David Choe are cited as influences, among others.

Retna has developed a constructed script which he uses in much of his work. Each block of text is a system of hieroglyphs, calligraphy and illuminated script that has been influenced by Arabic calligraphy, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Hebrew, Blackletter, and Native American typographies. Retna's script communicates personal messages and poetry which are not immediately decipherable to a pedestrian audience. His hieroglyphic style artwork has also been seen in the Lower East Side on the Rivington Street Wall near Bowery.[1]


A typical studio session primarily involves the creation of new material and continued editions on existing works. Retna notes that his most common media formats are based in painting: acrylic, enamel, aerosols and oils. His work is anchored in typographic forms.

Museum projects[edit]

Public projects[edit]

In 2016 he was commissioned to paint the side of the 24 story public housing building, Edificio Cuauhtémoc, in the Tlatelolco zone of Mexico City.[3]

Selected solo exhibitions[edit]

Art fairs[edit]

  • 2017: LA Art Show[8]

Commercial work[edit]

  • Nike (2011). Retna contributed to the overall graphic and visual arts elements for the re-opening of a Nike store in Las Vegas.[9]
  • Louis Vuitton (2012). In October 2012, Retna was commissioned by the fashion design firm Louis Vuitton to create signage for their temporary Miami Design District boutique. The project was a collaboration with street artists Aiko and Os Gêmeos, and included the design of scarves and accessories.[10]
  • VistaJet (2012). The airline company VistaJet commissioned Retna to decorate the tailfin of the VistaJet Global Express XRS with his signature script. Since its completion, the vessel's value is estimated at $60 million. The completed project was unveiled in 2012 in Geneva.[11]
  • Justin Bieber's Purpose (2015). In 2015, Retna designed the artwork for Justin Bieber's new album "Purpose". The artwork had some Buddhist, Christian and Hindu influences and Bieber is there with his both hands joined vertically.
  • Opera Aida (2016). In 2016, Retna was invited by Francesca Zambello to create the set design for Aida at the San Francisco Opera.[12][13]
  • John F. Kennedy Center (2017). In 2017, Retna's work was used as inspiration to design the set and costumes for Washington National Opera’s Aida. A series of hand-painted murals were displayed for six-week exhibition at the Kennedy Center Grand Foyer and Hall of Nations at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The words of JFK can be found in these original murals.[14][15][16][17]
  • Opera Aida (2018). In 2018, Retna collaborated with Seattle Opera to design the stage sets for Verdi's Aida.[18][19]


Retna has also repeatedly been in the news for violent acts, which have included: destroying artworks, an accusation of assaulting his ex-girlfriend Brittny Gastineau, and vandalizing a Los Angeles gallery.[20][21][22][23][24]


  1. ^ Elie. "Street Writer RETNA returns to tag the Bowery". Bowery Boogie.
  2. ^ "RETNA: Para mi gente". Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  3. ^ "RETNA intervino el edificio Cuauhtémoc en Tlatelolco". Nice Fucking Graphics!. 13 February 2017. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  4. ^ LA Artist RETNA presents first UK solo exhibition in six years at Maddox Gallery, Mayfair by Victoria Forbes-Watson, at The London Musings; published October 2, 2017; retrieved October 27, 2018
  5. ^ LA Artist RETNA Brings his Calligraphic Graffiti to Frieze Art Fair by Keith Estiler; at HYPEBEAST; published October 3, 2017; retrieved October 27, 2018
  6. ^ RETNA goes MANO A MANO, at Juxtapoz, published September 2017; retrieved October 27, 2018
  7. ^ Retna: Mano A Mano at Wall Street International Magazine; published October 21, 2017; retrieved October 27, 2018
  8. ^ "Retna/Nunca: Indigenous Reflections". LA Art Show. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  9. ^ Richard, Brandon. "Photos: Nike X Retna Event at Niketown Las Vegas". 02 Aug. 2011. Sole Collector.
  10. ^ Smylie, Jack. "Aiko, Retna, and Os Gemeos for Louis Vuitton". 26 Feb 2013. SLAMXHYPE. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  11. ^ Kazakina., Katya (13 February 2011). "Graffiti Artist Trades Street Vandalism for Bombardier Jet Gig". Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  12. ^ Meet RETNA, the Graffiti Artist Designing An Opera, by Emily Wilson, at The Daily Beast, published November 5, 2016; retrieved October 27, 2018
  13. ^ Street Artist RETNA brings outlaw sensibility to Opera’s Aida, by Tony Bravo, at San Francisco Chronicle, published November 10, 2016; retrieved October 27, 2018
  14. ^ Aida at Washington National Opera by Susan Galbraith; at DC Theatre Scene; published September 11, 2017; retrieved October 27, 2018
  15. ^ A Modern "Aida" by Gary Tischler, at George Towner; published September 14, 2017; retrieved October 27, 2018
  16. ^ WNO to Open New Season with AIDA, Featuring RETNA and Jessica Lang Dance by BWW New Desk, at Broadway World; published August 11, 2017; retrieved October 27, 2018
  17. ^ This street artist has done walls, shoes and Bieber's albums - now he's trying opera by Anne Midgette, at The Intelligencer; published September 1, 2017, retrieved October 27, 2018
  18. ^ Sing like an Egyptian, by Gavin Borchert, at Seattle Weekly, published May 9, 2018; retrieved October 26, 2018
  19. ^ “Aida”and “Rigoletto””Iush Verdi, by Angela Allen, at Oregon ArtsWatch, published May 8, 2018; retrieved October 26, 2018
  20. ^ "Retna Had a 'Tantrum' in an LA Gallery". artnet News. 9 November 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  21. ^ "LAPD Is Reportedly Investigating Street Artist RETNA for Vandalizing a Gallery That Declined to Include His Work in Its Show". artnet News. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  22. ^ "Brittny Gastineau Pal Says She Wasn't the Aggressor in Fight". Us Weekly. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  23. ^ Shenton, Zoe (17 June 2014). "Kim Kardashian's BFF Brittny Gastineau and Marquis Lewis want to put violent attack behind them". mirror. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  24. ^ "LAPD Is Reportedly Investigating Street Artist RETNA for Vandalizing a Gallery That Declined to Include His Work in Its Show". artnet News. 21 November 2018. Retrieved 11 October 2019.

External links[edit]

  1. Official website
  2. Artsy
  3. Artnet
  4. Kennedy Center