Invader, or Space Invader as he is also known, is considered a pioneer of street art. His style will be known to many, even if the artist himself is not, and it’s very likely there is a piece by Invader on a wall near you; to date he has ‘invaded’ 35 cities around the world.
Like fellow street artist Banksy, Invader keeps his identity hidden from all but a select few, often wearing a mask or pixellating his face for interviews, and choosing to define himself as a ‘UFA’, or an ‘Unidentified Free Artist’. Speaking about his choice to remain anonymous, Invader has said, “I have never been tempted to reveal my identity, what I do and create is more important than who exactly I am.” He installs work under the cover of darkness to ensure he is never caught or revealed, however in 2010 he was arrested for installing a piece marking the end of the 20th century and the fear of the millennium bug on the famous Hollywood sign, and was forced to pay a fine. What is known about the artist is that he was born in 1969 in Paris where he later attended the Parisian École des Beaux-Arts, and that his parents “think he works as a tiler in the construction industry”. Along with his anonymity, the artist’s affiliation with Banksy, who featured Invader in his film Exit Through the Gift Shop, has no doubt also contributed to his success.
Invader’s most famous series is perhaps the mosaics he began creating in the 1990s which are modelled on the pixelated 8-bit characters from 1970s and 1980s video games, such as the 1978 game he took his name from, Space Invaders. In recent years the artist has also created a number of mosaics that function as QR codes using black and white tiles. When photographed with a smartphone the code reveals its message: ‘this is an invasion’, suggesting that, while the artist claims not to be overtly political, he may have some concerns over the ongoing encroachments of privacy enacted by social media apps and website cookies.
As well as using tiles and grout, Invader also creates mosaic pieces using only Rubiks cubes, a style he calls ‘Rubikcubism’ in a nod to the early 20th century art movement. For this series the artist first uses a computer programme to work out “the precise distribution of the six colors on a Rubik's Cube required to achieve the desired image”. He then manually configures one side of every Rubik’s cube – usually around 300 cubes are used for one piece – in order to show the required pattern that will become a part of the whole, like a mosaic tile made up of smaller mosaic tiles. The cubes are then stacked to form a composite image and glued onto a board. The works can reach up to 1.5 metres depending on the design. The artist has used this innovative style to recreate famous images such as the Mona Lisa, Andy Warhol’s album cover for The Velvet Underground, the photograph of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road, and even portraits of Osama Bin Laden, the Dalai Lama and murder victim Florence Rey.
With his interventions on public space, Invader sees himself as hacking the urban environment in order to spread a ‘virus’ that will “liberate Art from its usual alienators that museums or institutions can be”. His work occupies prominent sites in cities around the world such as Hong Kong, New York and Paris. Ranging from cartoon characters and his signature Space Invaders alien to motifs that reflect the culture that surrounds them, his work is always carefully thought out and thoroughly mapped. Fans can download his ‘FlashInvaders’ app to find a complete list of the locations of individual works which become “[fragments] of a tentacular installation”. Recently he has developed this concept further in the French city of Montpellier where, when plotted on a map, his ‘invasions’ form the shape of the original Space Invader.
In 2012 Invader saw his dream of sending his artwork to space come true. He created one of his signature Space Invader mosaics, SpaceOne, to be attached to a helium balloon equipped with a camera. The work reached the stratosphere, gaining a height of 35 kilometres above the ground, before landing back on earth. In 2015 the artist went one step further thanks to the European Space Agency who had seen his earlier work. He was commissioned to create a mosaic for the International Space Station, where it has become the first artwork to be exhibited in space.
Back on earth, Invader has had solo exhibitions at galleries in Paris, Osaka, Melbourne, Los Angeles, New York City, London and Rome and shown work in prestigious institutions around the world, from MAMA Gallery in Rotterdam to the Borusan Center for Culture and Arts in Istanbul. As well as being admired by Banksy, he has gained acclaim from other fellow street artists such as Shephard Fairey who said of his work, “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.”
Invader’s pieces are highly sought after by collectors, some of whom go as far as to chip the original works off the walls on which they were installed. Since the early 2010s, when demand began growing for his work, Invader attempted to counter this activity by putting his artworks in ever more inaccessible spots and by using more delicate tiles which would be damaged in the process of removal.
Due to the digital nature of the work, Invader’s pieces translate well into prints and the artist has produced a large number of portfolios that are highly sought after on the market. While his original sculptures can reach up to seven figures, his editions, including DIY kits of his mosaics and a series of screen prints, still remain affordable for a range of collectors.