RETNA, "New Paintings and Works on Paper" at Michael Kohn Gallery- Art LTD (October/November 2012)
Los Angeles is a city built upon signs. The geographic map is diversified by various cultures that inject a vibrant visual language into the community. Veiled in an intricate tapestry of abstract and figurative allusions, the subtleties of the cityscape reveal themselves as each layer has been peeled away. Native Angeleno artist RETNA identifies with his city as an urban palimpsest and has developed his own signage, which draws upon the rigorous traditions of calligraphy and the scriptures from ancient cultures. In a careful construction derived from the past and the present, RETNA presents an intricate vocabulary of symbols, which are mesmerizing in their construction, exacting execution, and demanding presence on paper, canvas, and installation.
Best known for his large-scale installations on the exterior of buildings in Los Angeles, RETNA'S work adorns the entire facade of Michael Kohn Gallery for this exhibition. The viewer has the opportunity to interact with the installation and examine the handmade elements of Retna's work by tracing the symbols with his or her finger, and inspecting the drips of spray paint collected at street level. Rendered in a metallic spray paint that changes in the sun from an ominous shadow to a glistening sheen, the symbols contain the material of metallic spray paint and reflect the delicacy of the medium and fleeting nature of words.
The exhibition traces the work of RETNA from large-scale enamel and acrylic works on canvas to more intimate works on paper. The placement of works in the gallery space feels like it follows in the jazz tradition of trading fours where one work makes a call and the work placed in close proximity is the response. For the Record (2012), a large-scale ink work on handmade Japanese paper, is the first instance where Retna's handwriting appears next to his calligraphy. Rendered in light grey ink similar to the exterior of the gallery, the ink drips run down the paper in vertical lines forming a grid of positive and negative space. Let Me Finish Talking (2012) is a call to the former, repeating the configuration of symbols, but then rewriting text on an angle in heavy black ink. The pair of works demonstrates the artist's urgent desire to be heard. The work is a celebration of the fact that a language does not need be understood in order to be felt, and that we do not need to hold language to an exact meaning to appreciate its ability to unify cultures.