As a youth of African-American, El Salvadorian and Cherokee descent growing up in Los Angeles, Retna (real name Marquis Lewis) was mesmerized by the gang graffiti that surrounded him. He began practicing the art form, and adopted the name Retna from a Wu-Tang Clan song. In the mid-nineties he began making murals on walls, trains and freeway overpasses throughout the city.
Retna has transformed from a street artist to a break-out star in the contemporary art world. He has garnered attention from Usher, an R&B artist, who commissioned the artist to create a portrait of Marvin Gaye, and MOCA director Jeffrey Deitc.