Los Angeles bad-boy graffiti artist cum fine artist, RETNA, lands in Dallas via an exhibition that goes on view at the Goss-Michael Foundation. “Dovetail Mortises & La Peluca Grande” opens Thursday, October 10. It is the first exhibition to be presented by Artrinity, a new collective of contemporary art projects, curated experiences, and pop-up exhibitions, organized by founders Max Trowbridge, Joyce Goss and Kenny Goss.
When Trowbridge — a longtime fan of RETNA — and Joyce Goss heard rumblings of the artist’s interest in coming to Dallas, a flurry of texts ensued. Flights were soon booked to LAX — and a short UBER ride later the fashionable duo found themselves in Downtown Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row neighborhood, where RETNA maintains three working studios. It certainly adds to his edgy allure and street-wise vibe that he works within such notorious surroundings. Skid Row is, quite literally, a tent city, home to one of the largest homeless populations in the United States and has become an epicenter of crime, drug use and gang activity.
Surrounding DTLA’s neighborhood of homelessness, however, culture is alive and well. The arts district is thriving — and not too far away Soho Warehouse (one of the Soho House members-only clubs) is set to open a downtown location. His edgy studio location presents an interesting juxtaposition, as RETNA has garnered a rather gentrified celebrity posse of friends and fans of his work. In 2015, pop phenom Justin Bieber — who also enjoys the status of being labeled a bad boy — asked the artist to design the cover for his album, Purpose. RETNA has also had previous collaborations with Nike, Chanel and Louis Vuitton — all brands that are known to ride the fence easily between the high and the low, the world of luxury and the street.
Born Marquis Duriel Lewis, the self-taught artist has also been known to go by other aliases and tags besides RETNA. His early artistic inspirations take roots in Los Angeles, where a friend of his mother’s offered a priceless gift. “Mrs. Virginia Howard bought me a membership to LACMA [the Los Angeles County Museum of Art] because I would drive her around to her hospital stuff and she was super cool,” he says. “That membership to LACMA was a big thing for me. And I have a couple of early memories — the Ed Ruscha exhibition. . . all the Japanese calligraphy around LACMA.”
The idea of culture has become increasingly fluid as we move through the 21st century. There is, of course, artistic and pop culture, but add to that street culture, celebrity culture, and retail culture. While each world holds its own — they seem to collide more frequently than ever before.
While artist collaborations with fashion houses are practically no longer newsworthy, RETNA’s graffiti-ing of an entire Restoration Hardware store in West Palm Beach grabbed plenty of attention. And, for good reason. RETNA has managed to stay ahead of the curve. For his Dallas debut, the artist requested he leave a permanent mark on the city. This is no small gesture. He asked for an entire building to paint.
It looks as if he will be given the back wall of Dallas Auction Gallery, which faces Irving Boulevard on the Trinity Trail where joggers, cyclists, and other urban dwellers will be able to appreciate RETNA’s work up close and personal. The mind reels as to what he will create.
“Dovetail Mortises & La Peluca Grande” October 10 through November 8, The Goss-Michael Foundation, 1305 Wycliff Avenue Suite 120, Dallas, g-mf.org.