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Photos from RETNA’s install at Rivera & Rivera Gallery

August 12th, 2010

‘Installation’ isn’t quite accurate — this piece is an immersive experience. The giant letters MSK, that stand for his graffiti crew (Mad Society Kings), leap off the wall in menacing swaths of black fabric. You don’t look at it or stand within it — you are engulfed by its colossal and stately energy.

Retna specializes in images that are timeless, simultaneously old and new. His paintings of religious figures feel as old as icons despite the DayGlo colors and modern style. He adds the glow of Madonnas to El Mac’s murals of common human subjects. His unique use of the Latin alphabet to encode English and Spanish messages in his work marries the ancient to the modern, and uniquely taps into the eternal and the shared. When you look at the words, something deep inside your brain tugs at you with familiarity, an understanding buried in the Jungian collective unconscious. By its nature, graffiti is history, each artist painting over the next to leave his mark, the images layering over each other as artifacts of experience.

In that spirit, the installation is actually two layered pieces, one on top of another, like sequential civilizations discovered in an archaeological dig.

The act of creating the piece was a play on this idea of history in the making. His original mural covering the walls and floor was simply uninspired. Inviting his friends and collectors to vent themselves in any way they wished as long as it left a visual trace, raucous expressionism ensued. By morning, the mural was ruined in a manner akin to the vulnerable demise of art left on the streets.But a liberated vision was born.

The resulting work is texturized by its predecessor. The added depth granted by the stark contrast between the old and new offers an inspired metaphor of human evolvement. His brush strokes, calligraphically precise in his previous works, are messier here, drippier, less saturated. They snake around the walls, just like the names of the people who have contributed to Retna’s development as a person and an artist. (via Rivera & Rivera Gallery)

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