More than a decade ago, Marquis Lewis aka Retna began making art around the city. The Los Angeles native quickly began to cover more and more of the city while developing an eye-catching style: characters that mesh Arabic writing with Asian calligraphy and much more.
Fast forward to today, and he remains one of the most-recognized street artists. From garnering the attention of Jeffrey Deitch to being featured in MOCA Geffen’s “Art in the Streets,” Retna continues to catch the eye of the art world.
The artist’s move from the streets to established art institution especially came through on the opening reception of his new show at Michael Kohn Gallery. On Saturday night, the gallery filled with visitors closely examining his pieces, discussing their meaning and posing for pictures in front of them. When you first enter the gallery, you are immediately surprised by a large, silver glittering piece interestingly titled “This is the End.” In this piece and others, Retna’s trademark letters take on a glitzy side altogether appropriate for the large white rooms of Michael Kohn Gallery.
Oftentimes this image rubs street art fanatics the wrong way. But if you pay close attention, Retna cleverly straddles the line between street art and the gallery world and holds on to a distinct style. For one, he also included many rough-looking pieces with paint dripping down or frayed edges. Two pieces with figures in them, including the elusive “Black Eyes,” recall the gritty nature of Los Angeles streets. One seemingly calm almost all-white enamel and acrylic piece actually goes by the title “Escondete de mi o te voy a quebrar el ozico” which roughly translates to ‘hide from me or I am going to break your mouth.’
Outside, the artist stood with markers in hand signing everything from purses to shirts. He joked with attendees as he leaned against his Rolls Royce, covered in his distinct letters. To a die-hard fan who values street art’s willingness to break out of the gallery walls this might have proved a strange scene indeed. But if Retna can serve as any tale of the street art world, it’s one in which an Angeleno can paint on dirty concrete walls and eventually enjoy his own veritable gallery opening. Retna’s talent has blossomed and the variety of pieces in the gallery proves he’s come a long way during his decades of work – and that’s there’s much more to come.Michael Kohn Gallery
8071 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Text by Eva Recinos. Photos by Erwin Recinos.