“Most of us walk through life pretty blinkered. Anything that makes us laugh or makes us wonder about things is probably pretty good.”
Invader himself talks only reluctantly about whatever message he’s trying to convey because “I want everybody to have their own interpretation.” He’ll say only that it’s a commentary on the digital takeover of the world — “technology is a new evolutionary stage of man” — as well as a political commentary on the ownership of art.
“Putting art out in the street and not being elitist, that’s what I’m doing,” Invader said. “Who goes in galleries and museums? Only a few. But everybody goes in the street.”
The message, he readily admits, is not always well-received, especially by those in uniform. Police have chased him with machine guns in Istanbul (“The building where I was going to put something was an embassy, but I didn’t know that”) and with helicopters in Los Angeles (“they seemed rather sensitive about the big Hollywood sign, but I convinced them I was a just a stupid tourist”).
“I’ve spent a lot of nights in jail,” he said. “But they almost always let me go in the morning.” Usually after some pointed questions about , aren’t you a little old to be doing this? Although one Parisian cop let him go in return for a promise that Invader would give the policeman one of his mosaics — a very good deal for the cop, since galleries sell Invader’s own replicas of his pieces for prices ranging from $6,000 to $20,000.
There’s also a bootleg market on eBay, where Invader mosaics torn from walls go for a couple of thousand bucks. “The main danger to my work isn’t from police anymore,” Invader says. “It’s from people removing the mosaics to sell them. I went looking for one of the pieces I installed during my first trip to Miami and you can see the marks on the wall where somebody used an electric saw to take it down.”
Invader’s mosaics can be found in scores of cities around the world, often tweaked with a little homage to local culture. One of his aliens can be seen on the landmark Brussels fountain Mannekin Pis — Dutch dialect for “little boy peeing,” a literal description of the fountain’s sculpture — with a suggestive cascade of yellow tiles between its legs.
But nowhere is he more popular than his native Paris, where the 43-year-old Invader began his covert career about 15 years ago. “I own Paris,” he boasts. “I have totally invaded Paris. You cannot walk three feet without seeing one of my pieces.” More than 1,000 of his mosaics decorate the city, including one on the Eiffel Tower and another facing the Louvre.
Parisians are so smitten with the works that last year the city dissolved into an art rebellion known as the Post-It War, in which office buildings and stores competed to see who could create the biggest replica of an Invader creature in their windows using the sticky little memo pads.
But now the target is Miami, where Invader’s grandiose plans include an actual space shot: He wants to launch a helium balloon carrying a payload that includes a tiny video camera and a mosaic, to be photographed with the South Florida landscape 90 miles below as a backdrop. The first attempt, staged Thursday from a southwest Palm Beach County canefield as bemused agricultural workers looked on, failed to get off the ground. “Newton was right,” brooded Invader. But he’ll try again this week.
He’s also searching for a cheap boat rental that will enable him to put mosaics on the sides of bridges to the islands in Biscayne Bay. And when he drove up to the Miami Herald building to see a reporter, Invader’s eyes widened. “Look at all these wonderful walls!” he exclaimed. “Do you think I could put up a piece on one of them?” (Let the record clearly show that the reporter replied that approval for the project would have to come from somewhere well above his pay grade.)
Invader’s efforts will climax in December with a show at Art Basel, where fans will be able to buy a glossy coffee-table book full of photos of his Miami mosaics. Meanwhile, he’ll continue his relentlessly illicit work here for another two weeks.
“I was at this show in Great Britain where a museum had invited famous street artists from all over the world,” McCormick recalled. “The director was a big wheel in town, and he’d secured several subway stops where these artists could paint or whatever with permission, with as much space as they want and the blessings of authority. And still Invader just couldn’t stop himself — pretty soon they got a phone call that he’d been thrown in jail for installing his mosaics out in the streets.”
If you spot an Invader mosaic in South Florida, snap a photo and email it to email@example.com with location information for use in an upcoming photo gallery.