“Warning Invader (Silver)” by Invader, 2011
Our artist of the week: Invader
Street artists were once widely regarded as public nuisances rather than purveyors of a valid, new strain of creative practice. Now, a greater number than ever before can legitimately claim to have secured their places in the public’s affection – none more so than the masked Frenchman known as Invader – or Space Invader in some quarters.
How the street artist became much-loved
The reasons for the (almost) widespread adoration for the 1969-born former student of the École des Beaux-Arts (although he tells interviewers he attended a tiling school on Mars) can’t exactly be grounded in easy recognisability – after all, he has never outed his identity or shown his face – but is, instead, a result of his actual artwork. Invader’s works largely depicts familiar video game characters from the 8-bit era of the late ’70s and early ’80s, composed of square ceramic tiles, each meant to represent one pixel.
This ‘simple’ method has proved quite the effective one for the man who calls his artworks “invasions”, and indeed, even his name references the iconic 1978 arcade game. What such an easily repeatable approach is not the product of, is laziness on the part of an artist who has shown incredible fastidiousness in his preparation for, and subsequent creation of, “invasions” in cities across the world, including in Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia and Australia. 67 cities; 3,371 Invaders and counting…👾👾👾
An urban artist who will always be fascinating
There are so many complexities to Invader’s practice that have helped to mark him out from the graffiti daubers and taggers of this world, not least his diligence in obscuring his identity, on the basis that, “I have never been tempted to reveal my identity. What I do and create is more important than who exactly I am.” It is to this end that he wears a mask or pixellates his own image for on-camera interviews, including during his appearance in Banksy’s 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Image Source: MVD Entertainment Group, Excerpt – Space Invader
Invader has also managed to swerve clear of many of the common traps befalling street artists (such as an inability to monetise their work) – having done so through commissions and the sale of his pieces. An example of this was his Hong Kong Phooey, aka HK 58, which was sold for US$250,000 in early 2015 at his Sotheby’s auction debut.
When Invader was in Hong Kong in 2014, he peppered the city’s public spaces with his signature 8-bit style mosaics, including renditions of Hanna-Barbera cartoon great Penrod “Penry” Pooch – or as he’s better known to the world, Hong Kong Phooey. The illegally installed work, titled “Alias_HK58”, was eventually taken down by the Highways Department and presumably destroyed in that process. The artist recreated the piece for a local collector made of ceramic tiles on glass. This was sold for US$250,000 in early 2015 by Sotheby’s. Image Source: Lazarides & South Morning China Post
He has also become adept at placing his works in spots – such as filled-in windows and natural recesses – where they cannot easily be stolen, and has even switched to using larger, thinner tiles that are more likely to crack off in pieces than pop off intact.
Collaborating with the renowned sculptor Jason Taylor deCaires, Invader affixed a mosaic to one of deCaires’ underwater sculptures in the Bay of Cancun, 2012. Image Source: streetartnews.com
Then, there is one of Invader’s greatest innovations, his “Rubikcubism”, to consider – this style of mosaic art creating extremely complicated images from various Rubik’s Cube configurations. The end result of such a fiddly and time-consuming creative process is simply dazzling, as was the case with his 2005 image of anarchist Florence Rey. He has further explored the relationship between high tech and low tech through his use of QR codes, enabling smartphone-wielding gallery visitors to decode a hidden message simply reading, “This is an invasion”.
“Florence Rey” by Invader, 2005 (work in progress), Image Source: space-invaders.com & designboom.com
Impressive career achievements to date
As the artist has said of his preference from an early stage of his urban art practice for tiles and grout over the graffiti more typically favoured by street artists, “[a tile] is very permanent. It is meant to be put outside.”
His “invasions” began in earnest in his home city in the late ’90s, subsequently spreading into many other French cities and then to other parts of the world including Amsterdam, New York, Miami, Berlin, Hong Kong and Tokyo. It wasn’t long before he started to gain notoriety, with the artist admitting police attention to be a recurrent occupational hazard.
Commenting about his Space Invaders project, Invader said, “It is first of all about liberating Art from its usual alienators that museums or institutions can be. But it is also about freeing the Space Invaders from their video games TV screens and to bring them in our physical world. Everything started the day I decided to give a material appearance to pixelization through ceramic tiles. I first wanted to create a series of ‘canvases’ but I soon realised that tiles were the perfect material to display these pieces directly on the walls. I then had the idea of deploying my creatures on the walls of Paris and soon after in cities around the globe. Each of these unique pieces become the fragment of a monumental installation.”
The Frenchman was allegedly once arrested for vandalism in Los Angeles after the LAPD caught him with tile and grout near the historic Perez building in Little Tokyo, one police officer apparently commenting: “If you want to be an artist, buy a canvas.”
But it’s not always a negative experience with the authorities. “Sometimes it even goes quite well as there are some police officers who recognise and enjoy my art… Fortunately, this is only Art and I will not face the ‘death penalty’ which would be the only sentence that would stop me from continuing my invasion project.”
Invader’s burgeoning record in securing formal gallery exhibitions has seen his work appear in the Magda Danysz Gallery in Paris, Rotterdam’s MAMA Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles.
Whatever one makes of Invader as a man, the inevitable legal troubles arising from his practice and his incredible urban artworks or “invasions” themselves, there’s no doubting that they have achieved a permanence in the popular imagination entirely befitting their longevity on some of the world’s most otherwise forgotten walls.
“Going into a city with tiles and cement and invading it,” the artist has declared, “This is the most addictive game I have ever played.” It is certainly a salient point for many of us to agree with here at Addicted Art Gallery.
Game is not over!
“I always appear behind a mask. As such, I can visit my own exhibitions without any visitors knowing who I really am even if I stand a few steps away from them.” – Invader, Image Source: Facebook