Invader is the pseudonym of a French urban artist, born in 1969, whose work is modelled on the crude pixellation of 1970s–1980s 8-bit video games. He took his name from the 1978 arcade game Space Invaders, and much of his work is composed of square ceramic tiles inspired by video game characters. Although he prefers to remain incognito, and guards his identity carefully, his distinctive creations can be seen in many highly-visible locations in more than 65 cities in 33 countries. He documents each intervention in a city as an "Invasion", and has published books and maps of the location of each of his street mosaics.
In addition to working with tiles, Invader is one of the leading proponents of indoor mosaics created using stacks of Rubik's Cubes in a style he refers to as "Rubikcubism". He is also known for his QR code mosaic works.
Invader is a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts, a Parisian art school, though he tells interviewers he attended a tiling school on Mars. Invader initially derived inspiration for his creations from video games from the late 1970s to early 1980s that he played when he was growing up, particularly characters from Space Invaders, from which he derived his work name. Games of the era were constructed with 8-bit graphics, and so lend themselves well to the mosaic treatment, with each tile representing one pixel. Invader likes tiles for their robustness and permanence. Invader's first mosaic was installed in the mid 1990s in his home city. It was a sleeper for several years before the full "invasion" programme was conceived in 1996.
In this project, the idea is to bring the virtual world into reality. One can see many things in it, but it refers to the early days of digital and the video game.
The first wave of "invasion" began with his home city in 1998, and then spread to 31 other cities in France. Since then, Invader's works have appeared in 60 cities in 30 countries around the world. He has invaded New York five times, and Hong Kong on three separate occasions. He has tagged historic buildings and other locations. One of the more prominent places where the mosaics have been installed is on the Hollywood Sign. The first was placed on the letter D on 31 December 1999 to mark the Y2K bug. During subsequent trips to Los Angeles, Invader placed mosaics on the eight other letters of the sign.
In June 2011, Invader marked the installation of his 1000th work in Paris with an exhibition at La Générale entitled "1000". Since 2000, the artist has installed in excess of 70 pieces of work dotted around Hong Kong; the artist has declared the third wave undertaken in city, with 50 works, "probably my most accomplished city invasion wave". By June 2011, 77 cities have been invaded, 2,692 Space Invaders placed comprising some 1.5 million ceramic tiles; 19 invasion maps have been published. Invader estimates that more than 15% of his early pieces, ones that were small and placed rather low, have been removed. To combat their removal or damage by building owners, thieves or fans, Invader places many out of easy reach.
In 2012, Invader made a short film Art4Space documenting his attempt to launch one of his aliens into space on a modified weather balloon. Invader is also known for his QR code works. Created using regular black and white tiles, the patterns can be decoded using apps installed on smart phones. One decoded message reads "This is an invasion".
Invader works incognito, often masked and largely at night. To guard his anonymity on camera during interviews, he pixellates his own image or wears a mask as a disguise. He claims that only a few people know his real name and his face, and that even his parents think he works as a tiler in the construction industry.
By June 2011, Invader had travelled around the world six times and spent 22 nights in prison cells. Invader accepts arrest as an occupational hazard. He was arrested in 2010 for placing a mosaic on the Hollywood Sign, charged with vandalism and made to pay a fine. In July 2011, the Los Angeles Police Department detained two French nationals on suspicion of vandalism near MOCA's Little Tokyo gallery with tile and grout in hand. The police asserted that one of them was Invader, but released the pair without charge. He was also arrested by plain-clothed police in October 2013 in New York, just as he had completed installing a mural in Orchard Street in East Village in the early hours. He was again fined; the owner of the building took down the work featuring Princess Peach and had it preserved. Invader said that whilst creating installations he had been accosted by police in Hong Kong, but was left alone once they realised he was not committing any crime.
Invader sees himself as a hacker of public space spreading a virus of mosaic; the streets are his canvas, his invasions gifts to the city and its people. He believes that museums and galleries are not accessible to everyone, so deliberately makes his works public by installing them at street level for ordinary people to enjoy on a daily basis.
The sites for the mosaics are not random. These are scouted and carefully researched, often with local support, and are also chosen for the visibility (strategic), local interest (aesthetic) and symbolism (conceptual) they provide. Although high visibility is one objective, Invader may choose locations that are less prominent. He has said that "a spot is like a revelation... it jumps out at you."
Although many of his works feature the signature aliens, no two pieces are alike. The subject matter may also be themed and adapted to their context. Invader's repertoire of subjects now includes Star Wars characters (London), as well as the Pink Panther and Mega Man (Paris). Sites near major bank buildings are marked with dollar sign mosaics. His works in Hong Kong have a more oriental theme: with some martial arts characters; gold and red colours have been employed more often to reflect the traditional Chinese colours for fire and earth.
Typically, mosaics are placed ten to fifteen feet above the ground, and on street corners in areas of high visibility. He has developed methods and techniques to attain those potentially dangerous and hard-to-reach locations. Invader unveiled a massive Spider-Man (PA 1040) very high up in the 11th arrondissement April 2013. In his invasion of Hong Kong in 2014, he planted mosaics that featured Hong Kong Phooey, Thomas from Kung-Fu Master and Popeye.
Invader has said: "I don't know what 'holidays' means because anywhere I go, I can't resist bringing tiles and cement with me." His mosaics are half-built in advance. The weight and fragility of the tiles are constraints that influence his planning and site choices. When Invader arrives in a city, he usually stays in a city for two or three weeks. He obtains a map and spends at least a week installing the mosaics, which are catalogued (each given an identifier with the city code and sequential number), photographed (one close-up and one in its context) and mapped to indicate their locations within the city. He prints and distributes "invasion maps" within the city he is visiting, and they are later sold in his on-line shop. In Montpellier, the locations of mosaics were chosen so that, when placed on a map, they form an image of a giant Space Invaders alien.
This catalog of the mosaics also serves as the basis of what Invader calls a "reality" game – using the "FlashInvaders" smartphone app, players can hunt globally for installed pieces. Using the camera and geolocation functionality, users can submit photographs via the app which are then validated against the catalogued works. Successful hits or "Flashes" earn points, and the associated photos are displayed on Invader's official website.
As his works have proven collector value since the 2010s, Invader adopted a new strategy to avoid his works from being removed by profiteers. In late 2015, Invader planned a series of art pieces in New York City, putting out a call on social media for building owners who would be willing to host his mosaics legally. In addition, an additional consideration in the choice of placements include the existence of natural protections against scavengers – sites with architectural features such as recesses and blocked out windows become more attractive. Works may be larger and employ more delicate tiles so that works cannot be removed undamaged in one piece.
Since about 2004, Invader has been working on another project that involves making artworks exclusively using Rubik's Cubes. He may be the originator, and is certainly one of the foremost proponents of the art form he calls "Rubikcubism". Invader takes an image from popular culture, uses a computer program to work out the precise disposition of the six colours for each image. He then manipulates nine pixels for each Rubik's Cube to give the required pattern – taking perhaps ten seconds per cube, constructs a full image by stacking them, after which the cubes are glued to a backing board. A piece typically composed of approximately 300 cubes, measures about 0.9 by 1.3 metres (3 ft × 4 ft), and weighs approximately 36 kilograms (80 lb), but the exact size depends on the subject and the desired level of detail.
The works are themed along three axes: "Bad Men", where he reinterprets villains such as Osama bin Laden, Jaws and Al Capone; "Masterpieces" where famous paintings by artists such as Delacroix, Warhol, Seurat, Lichentenstein are given a workover; and "Low Fidelity" based on iconic album art such as Country Life, The Velvet Underground & Nico, and Nevermind. He has created images of the Mona Lisa and the Dalai Lama with this technique. He received a lot of attention for the 2005 portrait of Florence Rey he made with the technique, which has since been much imitated.
Invader has had solo exhibitions at art galleries in Paris, Osaka, Melbourne, Los Angeles, New York City, London and Rome. Space Invader has shown in many galleries, art centres and museums, from the 6th Lyon contemporary art biennale (2001), the MAMA Gallery in Rotterdam (2002), at the Paris-based Magda Danysz Gallery (2003), at the Borusan Center for Culture and Arts in Istanbul, Subliminal Projects in Los Angeles (2004).
In 2010, he was one of the featured artists in the Banksy production Exit Through the Gift Shop shot by Thierry Guetta (Mr. Brainwash), Invader's cousin. In 2011, he took part in the MoCA LA show at the Geffen Contemporary: "Art in the streets" curated by Jeffrey Deitch. His work, when sold in galleries, often fetches six-figure sums.
Fellow street artist Shepard Fairey wrote in Swindle:
Invader's pop art may seem shallow, but by taking the risk of illegally re-contextualizing video game characters in an urban environment that provides more chaotic social interaction than a gamer's bedroom, he makes a statement about the desensitizing nature of video games and consumer culture. In a postmodern paradox, a game like Grand Theft Auto takes the danger of the streets and puts it in a safe video game, while Invader takes a safe video game icon and inserts it into the danger of the streets.
Invader's work is not universally welcomed. During his Hong Kong invasion in early 2014, Invader installed 48 works all over the city. However, the city's Highways Department admitted to removing at least one work later that month, taking down a roadside mosaic in Fortress Hill "to ensure safety of road users". Local residents were disappointed, and saw the removal as an example of the government only paying lip-service to promoting the arts in the city. The artist expressed his sadness, saying he "never faced a situation where a public authority would systematically and rapidly remove the art from the streets". In early 2015, a replica of the life-sized Hong Kong Phooey (HK 58), the original of which was removed by the government a year earlier, achieved HK$1.96 million ($250,000) at auction by Sotheby. NY 145, featuring an invader and an old Apple Computer icon, sold for HK$562,500 ($72,000).
A solo exhibition of new and retrospective works – called "Wipe Out" – was held by the artist in May 2015 in association with the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation and Le French May,
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- Shepard Fairey, a street artist known for his Obey Giant campaign
- Banksy, a prolific English graffiti artist whose name is also unknown
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