In a city as busy and bustling as Paris — with its rich artistic and architectural heritage — it is easy to lose oneself in a mad dash between various cultural sites. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you might wind up missing some great contemporary art.
Those who have seen Banksy’s documentary film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, will no doubt be familiar with the works of one of France’s most famous street artists, Invader. [If you have not seen Exit Through the Gift Shop, take note. It is excellent.]
Invader got his start in the mid-90’s. Taking inspiration from the early video game Space Invaders, the artist began creating tiled mosaics and placing them all over his native city. The colorful tiles proved to be a perfect medium to bring pixelated video-game characters to life on city walls all over Paris.
Small and unobtrusive at the outset, the works have grown more complex and larger in scope as Invader honed his artistic medium. Rather than haphazardly plastering his tiled aliens, he began carrying out full-scale “invasions,” meticulously scouting the city and planning the installation of dozens of works at a time. He also started branching out beyond Space Invaders, incorporating other video game and film characters into his oeuvre.
After the initial Paris invasion in 1998, Invader has carried out “invasions” in dozens of cities in more than 30 countries all over the world. He has managed to send his invaders to space and even did a small safari “invasion” in Tanzania. There are a couple of his works deep under water for scuba divers to discover in Cancun and one high up on a ski lift in the Swiss Alps.
Each “invasion” is tracked and recorded, and the artist not only offers geo-tagged city maps of his artwork, but also a video game-like app, through which users earn points for finding his artwork.
Paris alone has over a thousand of Invader’s works — no two alike! And though we have visited at least a dozen cities featuring Invader’s distinctive aliens, we had never come across one of his pieces until our recent return to Paris.
This likely owes to the simple fact that prior to watching the Banksy documentary we had no idea that he even existed. And though many of the works are placed in conspicuous locations, they are frequently just high enough above eye level that they are easy to miss.
The lady in red above, for example, can be glimpsed from the Picasso museum, but is placed just far enough away that she went completely unnoticed by the bulk of the visitors crowding around the museum’s entrance. Similarly, the artist has “invaded” New York half a dozen times, but we have never seen one of his works in the Big Apple despite frequent visits there.
Once you start noticing his works, however, it becomes virtually impossible not to keep looking for them. And though we preferred to discover them organically, there were a handful of his more ambitious pieces — like the Spiderman that hovers high above the Opera skyline — that we went out of our way to track down.
So, next time you’re in Paris, or in any one of the dozens of cities where Invader has operated, keep your eyes peeled. You never know what you might see.