Graffiti artist turns Echo Park billboard into his canvas

Retna billboard over Echo Park/Photo by Lea Lion

By Lea Lion

When residents of Echo Park woke up on Tuesday morning, there was a cryptic message looming over the neighborhood.

The graffiti artist Retna had transformed a billboard on Sunset Boulevard where it crosses over Glendale Boulevard. into a massive mural. It featured his signature script in bright red and blue brushstrokes complete with paint drips.

Marquis Lewis (or Retna in the graf world) is known for his hieroglyphic-like calligraphy that combines elements of foreign alphabets – Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Native American — and for the many murals he has painted in Los Angeles. In addition to the Echo Park billboard, Retna painted a stunning gold on black image on Beverly and graphic black and white script on La Cienega, to name a few.

His other recent coups include murals at MOCA’s graffiti blowout “Art in the Streets,” a wall at the West Hollywood Library, the façade of the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the tail of a luxury airplane that has been referred to as the most expensive street art in the world.

The Echo Park billboard, which appeared a few days before the opening of Retna’s show at a Los Angeles gallery, raises some questions. Is the artwork a legal mural? Is it part of a larger series of billboard murals around Los Angeles? And what, if anything, does the piece say?

But for now, at least, we can say: Goodbye weight-loss ad. Hello art world heavyweight.


  1. Looks like my 3-year-old’s art. Nice to see she shares a “street artist’s” talent.

    Perhaps I should get her a billboard too…

    • Clueless, I think what Tom is trying to say is that with that short sentence, you sound like a complete condescending tool. If your daughter is already a stellar such as this artist shown, no doubt she maybe better off receiving outside lessons (meaning not from you) on etiquette and art appreciation rather than getting her own billboard.

      • Nah,

        All of you, a bunch of negative Nellies that ASSUMED I was being condescending!

        All I said was his billboard looks strikingly similar to my kid’s work. I’d say that YOU are being condescending to me and my kid’s talent… that you read anything other than the exact words I said shows your intellectual flaws.

    • No it doesn’t. Obvious troll is obvious.

  2. Indeed, you come across as Clueless.


  4. When does it become art and when does it become blight ?
    If the graffiti said Tiny or Echo Park or something , everyone would be up in arms totally going nuts .
    Just like when people string shoes on a wire and get all panicked to think it means drugs are being sold @ the location , but you string a trophy and a high heel glittered thing on a string is ok and cool .
    Ugh , art is so subjective………

    • So you’re saying you had no problem with a billboard bearing a commercial advertisement just like you see on nearly every street corner and on the side of every large building in the city thousands, even tens of thousands, times a day , but this singular billboard with somebody’s art (because “art” is not a subjective term, it’s an objective term that doesn’t take into account whether you like it) on it is “blight?”

      That’s exactly what’s wrong with most anti-graffiti arguments: they bely a complacency with numerous other issues that plague large urban communities in arguably more significant ways.

      • uh , nowhere in my post did i say “……had no problem with a billboard bearing a commercial advertisement just like you see on nearly every street corner and on the side of “………..blaha blah blah …………did I .

  5. I like it.
    Now he should go for the “Gentleman’s Club” mural on Glendale.

  6. what do you suppose the nay sayers said when confronted with ancient pteroglyphs or heiroglyphics on the facades of cave walls, rocks or buildings. It is what IT IS. Live in it or MOVE.

    • ……..live in it or MOVE?
      coming from someone i suspect has only lived here for the past 5 years.
      Echo Park, since 1967

      • Mr. Klapper!

        I applaud your putting into his place this new traveler on our fine shores. I know that you and I agree the billboard should be advertising the end of hipsterism (and it’ scourge of skinny jeans).

        Let us find many more of these people who have not lived here long and discover many more things we can disagree about. This is our great freedom of country-ship.

        If I whiff even a the smallest smell of this kind of ignorance, I will quickly use your argument to snuff it. RON DON since 1968!! (I did not dare suggest you to have lived here as long as yourself, but you see, close!!)

      • Your attitude sucks. Let me take the counter attitude to show you how childish your argument is: Out with old, in with the new! Get outta here old man!

  7. This story and the comments are strikingly similar to an upcoming episode of Chicago Fire and the firemen’s dialogue about a billboard graffiti artist….i.e. What’s our great country coming to? My kid could do better. Artist? More like criminal.

    Congrats on writing primetime network drama

  8. It says “pendejos”. Spanish for stop whining. Its a great piece.

  9. It’s a great piece.
    Do people really find that offensive? I understand getting upset about tags on your personal property, but how is covering up obnoxious advertising in a creative way, something to get angry and gripe about?
    Would you prefer a spotless clean gray world?

  10. Los Angeles is inundated with hideous billboards; that’s the real “blight” in this situation. There’s a small bit of justice that happens every time a graffiti artist bombs a billboard. This piece looks great. I’m not familiar with Retna’s work but now I’m intrigued.

  11. Did the billboard have an advertisement on it before it was painted over? If so and I were the business that paid for it, I’d be pretty POed. If not, I don’t see the problem. Either way, though, it is an improvement. Very nice.

  12. To quote a recently deceased man ” CANT we all just get along”.

  13. I was wondering about that billboard. Nice story Lea, thank you.

  14. hmmm… Street art? To me it looks like property value reducing and childish felony vandalism.

    • Probably raised the property value considering the artist in question has painted ‘the most expensive piece of street art in the world’ just like Banksy in England who paints a mural on a house and raises the property value by $200,000.

  15. Bastard Artist!

  16. Lame, total rip off of a great artist Chaz Bojorquez , hate to see lame hipster chumps making money of the OG homies this guy renta cant even take the time to develop his own style ,these are the short cuts the new gen are coming up with.

  17. Check out Chaz Bojorquez one of the OG artist in this town and developer of style!

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