Marquis was born and raised in Los Angeles, and has African-American, El Salvadorian and Cherokee origins. As a child, he moved between several schools in the Los Angeles area, each time becoming more intrigued by and involved in graffiti culture. In 1996, he chose the pseudonym Retna from a lyric in one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s song. The name itself evokes the timeless power, dynamics and visual vibrancy behind the artist’s acclaimed work. Retna’s projects merge photography with graffiti style and paint, time with color, fashion and couture with street culture, the spiritual with the sensual, and fluidity with grit. Whether his paintings hang in a gallery or wall on the streets of Los Angeles and many other cities, they serve as a retina through which we view the urban journal of contemporary art.
At an early age, Retna was introduced to L.A.’s urban art and mural culture. While still attending high school, he was a leading member of one of the largest and most innovative graffiti collectives the city had witnessed. He is perhaps best known for appropriating fashion advertisements and amplifying them with his unique layering, intricate lines, text-based style and incandescent color palette reflecting an eclectic artistic tradition. Retna is best known for his original, distinctive and easily recognizable script, constructed from elements of Blackletter, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Arabic, and Hebrew calligraphy, as well as more traditional types and styles of street-based graffiti. At first glance, his artworks look like an undiscovered ancient script, a series of hypnotic symbols, complex, beautiful and captivating.
Retna became just as notorious for his variegated painting technique as his timeless style – he used paintbrushes mixed with the traditional spray can. Many of his pieces blur the line between fine art and graffiti, between power and opposition, between tradition and advancement, between the past and future.