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RETNA's tribute to Aaliyah is the 'queen' of Heritage Auctions' July 28 Urban Art event
RETNA (b. 1979), Aaliyah (Queen of the Damned), 2010. Acrylic on digital pigment print, 61-1/4 x 42-1/2 inches.

DALLAS, TX.- The artist called RETNA has long said that his work, most of it stuffed full of hieroglyphics dripping with spray paint, is meant to bridge the chasm between graffiti art and fine art. As though there were a distinction between such things in 2021, as myriad languages morph into a single tongue and lines separating genres melt into new style and sounds and scenes blur and merge and mutate. The revolution may not be televised. But it will eventually wind up on a canvas, whether it’s made of brick, tin, train car or paper.

And RETNA, né Marquis Lewis in 1979, is among the world’s foremost street-art insurgents; one of its most collectible, too, given the record $175,000 paid for his 2015 work They Can’t Come at Heritage Auctions in November. As Maddox Gallery noted in 2017, when commenting upon the dramatic increase in interest in Lewis’ work, “RETNA art is a global phenomenon which transcends artistic genres and linguistic barriers. Whether it’s a large-scale public mural or an indoor sculpture, no artistic medium is impossible for the artist.”

Nor any subject, which brings us to Aaliyah (Queen of the Damned), a 2010 acrylic-on-digital pigment print that serves as one of the myriad highlights in Heritage Auctions’ July 28 Urban Art Signature event.

Of the five RETNA works offered in the auction, his portrait of the late R&B singer, who died at age 22 in a 2001 plane crash, is a singular work absent his trademark hieroglyphics. Yet it’s still recognizably RETNA – a static work that’s wildly kinetic, something quiet but never really still.

Walter Ramirez, Heritage’s New York-based specialist in Fine & Decorative Arts, points especially to RETNA’s “loose-flowing and short brush strokes, and his wild and vibrant palate.” Says Ramirez, “It’s a wildly unique work definitive of the imagination and the genius of RETNA.”

The artist here pays homage to the singer with an image from her second – and final – film role, as the vampire Queen Akasha from director Michael Rymer’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned. Beneath the acrylic lies a movie poster, a mere advertisement for a movie about “the mother of all vampires.”

Aaliyah herself would call the character a “manipulative, crazy, sexual being,” to which RETNA adds playful, ethereal and, most of all, eternal.

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