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, his 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.
Invader is a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts, a Parisian art school. 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 name. Games of the era were made with 8-bit graphics, and so lend themselves well to his method of each tile representing one pixel. Invader began making mosaics in Paris in the 1990s and then in 31 other cities in France.
Invader has made mosaics in New York City five times, and Hong Kong on three separate occasions. He has tagged historic buildings and other locations. On 31 December 1999 he placed a mosaic on the letter D of the Hollywood Sign to mark the Y2K bug. During subsequent trips to Los Angeles he 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, he has installed more than 70 pieces of work around Hong Kong. By June 2011, Invader had created mosaics in 77 cities with 2,692 Space Invaders placed comprising some 1.5 million ceramic tiles; 19 "invasion maps" have been published.
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 also makes QR code works. Created using regular black and white tiles, the patterns can be decoded using apps installed on smartphones. 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 his parents think he works as a tiler in the construction industry.
Invader sees himself as a hacker of public space spreading a virus of mosaic. 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.
Although many of his works feature his signature aliens, no two pieces are alike. The subject matter may also be themed and adapted to their context. Invader's repertoire of subjects includes Star Wars characters, the Pink Panther and Mega Man, Spider-Man, Hong Kong Phooey, Thomas from Kung-Fu Master and Popeye. Sites near major bank buildings are marked with dollar sign mosaics, those in Hong Kong have an oriental theme.
When Invader arrives in a city, he usually stays there for two or three weeks. He obtains a map and spends at least a week installing the mosaics, which are catalogued, photographed and mapped to indicate their locations within the city, and prints and distributes city "invasion maps". 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.
As his works have sold since the 2010s, Invader adopted a new strategy to avoid them being removed. 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, he has chosen sites with architectural features restricting access. Also, his works may be larger and use more delicate tiles so that they cannot be removed undamaged.
Since about 2004, Invader has been working on a project that involves making artworks exclusively using Rubik's Cubes, which he calls "Rubikcubism". He 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, constructing 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 its level of detail.
The works are themed along three axes: "Bad Men", 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 attention for the 2005 portrait of Florence Rey that he made with the technique.
Invader has had solo exhibitions at art galleries in Paris, Osaka, Melbourne, Los Angeles, New York City, London and Rome. He has shown in 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), and Lazarides in London (2011).
In 2010, he was included 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, can fetch 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.
In Hong Kong in early 2014, Invader installed 48 works. However, the city's Highways Department removed a roadside mosaic in Fortress Hill. 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. In early 2015, a replica of the life-sized Hong Kong Phooey (HK 58) that had been removed, reached HK$1.96 million ($250,000) at auction at Sotheby's. 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.
In 2017, after an invasion in Ravenna, Italy, capital city of ancient mosaics, Invader installed a series of vegetarian-oriented works on the Paris streets, in support of vegan restaurants and other spots in the Paris 'Veggietown' neighborhood in the 9th and 10th districts.
- L'Invasion de Paris: Livre 01, la Genése. Paris: Franck Salma, 2003. By Invader. ISBN 2-9520199-2-4. With text by Invader in French with English translation.
- Invasion Los Angeles: Invasion Guide 2: Los Angeles / Mission Hollywood. Paris: Franck Salma, 2004. By Invader. ISBN 2-9520199-4-0. With text by Invader in French with English translation. Edition of 2000 copies.
- Invasion in the UK: London, Manchester, Newcastle: Invasion Guide 3. Paris: Franck Salma, 2008. ISBN 978-2952019972. With text by Invader in French with English translation.
- L'Invasion de Paris: 1000. Control P, 2013. ISBN 978-2954125916. 2 Volumes. Text in French and English.
- Mission Miami: Art4Space Project: Invasion Guide 5. Control P, 2013. ISBN 978-2954125923.
- Wipeout In Hong Kong: Invasion Guide 6. Control P, 2015. ISBN 978-9881403186.
- Street Logos, Tristan Manco, Thames & Hudson, 2004, ISBN 0-500-28469-5
- De Kunst van het Mozaieken [page 128]. Authors: Weitenberg & de Melo, Forte Uitgevers, 2010, ISBN 90-5877-739-1
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