Retna has a particular interest in the visual writings of ancient cultures, from Arabic and Persian to Hebrew and Native American. Both hieroglyphics and the graceful tradition of ink calligraphy inform his paintbrush while the angles and curves of his improvised alphabet echo the architecture of a mosque or Asian temple. Equally evident in Retna’s nuanced script is the artist’s interest in Modernist abstraction. One can see influences of Mark Tobey’s intricate and orderly composition as well as the gestural strength of Franz Kline.
Retna is also a product of his own time. His work is informed by contemporary artistic precedents that include Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Glenn Ligon—all artists using text and image to expand the boundaries of painting and confound visual interpretation. Retna’s works are simultaneously conceptual, literal and abstract. The artist is able to synthesize all of these precedents and influences into a seamless and elegant abstract painting.
The artist adopted the alias Retna from the Wu Tang Clan track Heaterz: “Kinetic globes light will then shine, burns your retina.” He typically paints to music and allows the rhythmic beat and flow to partly guide his intuitive and emotive script. Beyond the fluidity of music, Retna’s work contains imagery and histories that are vast and diverse. The symbols and pictographs of his signature script are inlaid with his multicultural background of El Salvadorian, Cherokee, Spaniard, Pipil and African-American lineage.
The work of Faile, an artistic collaboration between Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, is characterized by a style reminiscent of comic book illustrations, often incorporating written text, corporate logos, graphic patterns, and appropriated images gleaned from popular culture. The duo install their collages, screen prints, and stencils at locations across the globe by pasting works that were prefabricated in the studio on exterior walls and public surfaces. In 2008, Faile was commissioned to create a work for the facade of the Tate Modern in association with the museum’s “Street Art” exhibition. Faile also creates paintings on canvas, sculptures, and installations, such as their 2010 work Temple, consisting of a partially destroyed church that married traditional Portuguese motifs and ceramics with Faile’s design work and iconography.
Christopher Wool (b.1955, Chicago) is an American artist residing in New York City. Since the 1980s, Wool’s studio practice has incorporated issues surrounding post-conceptual ideas – moving beyond theoretical readings. Ken Johnson, writing in The New York Times, said, “Christopher Wool made some of the punchiest paintings of the 1980s and 1990s: big, signlike word pictures that delivered gnomic, vaguely alarming messages.”
Writing in 2000, in The New York Times, Ken Johnson highlighted Wool’s response to an observation made on the street as significant, “in the 1980s, Christopher Wool was doing a Neo-Pop sort of painting using commercial rollers to apply decorative patterns to white panels. One day he saw a new white truck violated by the spray-painted words ‘sex’ and ‘luv.’ Mr. Wool made his own painting using those words and went on to make paintings with big, black stenciled letters saying things like ‘Run Dog Run’ or ‘Sell the House, Sell the Car, Sell the Kids.’ The paintings captured the scary, euphoric mood of a high-flying period not unlike our own.”