The street and studio artist Retna, born Marquis Lewis, picked his moniker from the lyrics of a Wu Tang song that resonated with him in his youth. Inspired to pursue art after seeing graffiti on the freeway, his practice now includes street art and painting on canvas. Retna has become known for his long and geometric script, which he developed while looking towards Egyptian and Native American traditional symbols. Though his marks resemble the calligraphy of multiple cultures (and he maintains that he composes his works in English and Spanish), the writing does not belong to a particular language. Retna explains, “I want my text to feel universal. I want people from different cultures to all find some similarity in it—whether they can read it or not.”
His works are crowded and intricate, yet regimented. Grid-like and linear in composition, his works have a comforting order to them in the way they are laid out, but are simultaneously unsettling since the text is not immediately recognizable to the viewer. They are at once evocative of ancient cultures and quintessentially modern in their accessibility global application.