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.