Whitehot Magazine

Sorry won’t cut it - RETNA’s "Pardon Me" at Alchemy Gallery

(L-R) Pardon Me, 2021. Acrylic, ink, and enamel on archival paper. 90 x 60 in. each (framed). Perdóname, 2021. Watercolor and oil stick on archival paper. 72 x 45 in. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

RETNA: Pardon Me


By CLARE GEMIMA September 11,  2023

RETNA’s, or Marquis Lewis’ Pardon Me is a sad apology letter to the only woman left in the world that probably respects him – his mother. With a hard history to sieve through, it seems the art world is still blatantly capitalizing upon male artists with tarnished histories of domestic violence and assault, blanketing criminal actions with terms like “being destructive”, or falling into “dark places.” 

As someone assigned to write a visual analysis on RETNA’s three bodies of work, made between 2019 - 2021 that currently hang in Lower East Side’s Alchemy gallery, I can assure you I don't have nearly enough energy to bypass the fact that this artist has been accused of physically assaulting his high profile ex-girlfriend, and has a checkered past of violence to say the very least. I continue to wonder why we should accept Marquis Lewis’ apology. Considering how often the price of each work was referenced, the gallery’s proud representation of the controversial artist raises questions about who “making amends” – in this case through oils and inks on paper and canvas – truly benefits. 

Crème de la Crème, 2019. Oil, enamel, and ink on canvas. 77 x 67 in. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

With such conviction it’s almost as if searching his name on Wikipedia wasn't an option, the team has sought to shine a new light on the artist’s tortured inner conflict; a dynamic between two types of mark making, and an alter-ego by the name of Brimstone. Viewers are stranded in the middle of two streams of consciousness; Pardon Me’s more signature hieroglyphics, perfectly crisp with intentionality, and Crème de la Crème’s scattery slapstickness - perhaps a canvas that should’ve had a sledgehammer thrown through it instead. 

Pardon Me presents a visual dialectic that recalls sentiments proclaimed in therapeutic social circles for people seeking sobriety, much like the globalized Twelve step program, and provides a similar gesture of hope, despite all hopelessness. To quote an excerpt from one of the organization’s literary texts, RETNA’s Pardon Me humbly submits “an honest regret for harms done, a genuine gratitude for blessings received, and a willingness to try for better things tomorrow.”  

Marquis Lewis aka RETNA’s Pardon Me, 2023 will run from September 7th - 12th, 2023 with an opening reception Wednesday September 6th, 2023 from 4 - 7pm at 55 Delancey Street, New York. For more information, please visit: https://www.alchemy-gallery.com WM 


Clare Gemima

Clare Gemima contributes art criticism to The Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary HUM, and other international art journals with a particular focus on immigrant painters and sculptors who have moved their practice to New York. She is currently a visual artist mentee in the New York Foundation of Art’s 2023 Immigrant mentorship program.

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