The Street Artist “Invading” France
Discover the Invader street art that is vogue in Paris and throughout France
Street art was designated vogue with an exhibit at the Paris City Hall highlighting current street artists along with those who started the trend in France in the 1960/70s. The exhibit features 60 years of street art in Paris including JR, Blek le Rat, Miss Tic and many others. But the illustration on the event promotion features a pixelated Invader on a ladder putting finishing touches on one of his tile mosaics that can be found along rue de Montreuil.
While the show reflects the current popularity of street art, Invader has been tagging the walls (and literally streets) of Paris since 1996 and has invaded 82 other cities in the world. In France, he can be found in 27 cities from Lille in the north to Marseille in the south. He currently has 4,114 invaders worldwide with 1,485 in Paris.
Invader’s style is using tile mosaics that give the image of pixelated Space Invaders from the video games he played when he was growing up in the 1970s and 80s. He has expanded that to include mosaic versions of fine art, pop culture characters or a response to the tagging location. For example, there’s a pharmacist in a white jacket above a pharmacy, a rat carrying a gun above a coffee shop featuring cats to pet, a pixelated paintbrush next to an art store and an Invader character next to a blue river that is tagged on the edge of a bridge that crosses the Seine. Invader does have a sense of humour.
One of the best things about Invader is the Flash Invader app. Free in Apple and Android App Stores, users see what they think is an Invader and take a photo (called a flash) of it using the app. The app recognizes the location and if it’s a genuine Invader it assigns points to the user. The app became available in 2014 and there are now more than 300,000 players who have taken almost 19 million flashes in 83 cities worldwide. An extra 100 bonus points are awarded for every new city the user flashes.
My first out-of-Paris flash was in Clermont-Ferrand. Not only did I win 50 points on flashing the art but I was thrilled to win the extra 100. I admit, I’m a low-level player. I’ve currently flashed 200 invaders for 6,710 points while the top player on the app has found 3,300 for 96,880 points. I have a long way to go.
Playing with the app is a great way to look at and explore Paris. Keeping on the lookout for Invader’s work results in a greater appreciation of the city. Looking up reveals the great corners, angles and zig-zag construction of buildings. Much street art is on the sides of buildings that doesn’t interfere or conflict with architecture or style and can sometimes add to the effect. The result is an expanded experience of the streets and corners of Paris and a better awareness and appreciation of the personality of the neighbourhood. Invader art is also hidden on fountains or statues, next to street signs or almost unnoticeable on narrow sides of buildings or bridges. Plus, I find new streets to walk, new paths to take in search of an Invader even if on the way to a familiar location.
But users must look down to find Invader too. I was surprised that I even noticed an Invader lodged in the black concrete on the ground on a street corner on Rue d’Argout in the 2nd arrondissement. I looked downward at the curb to make sure I didn’t trip and there it was. I was stepping on an Invader. I earned 10 points.
Around the Paris area, Invader has invaded the homes of the rulers of France. Would Marie Antoinette have enjoyed finding Invaders in Versailles? Would Napoleon have felt he needed to compete with (or eliminate) Invader when he found tags in Fontainebleau? Today’s Invader searchers can just have fun finding the art and enjoying the beauty of Versailles and Fontainebleau, never mind the politics.
Beyond Paris, Invader can be found in cities such as Dijon (look for pixelated cans of mustard) and Lyon (bridges and high buildings.) The south of France has several cities that have been invaded including Marseille (look along beaches, harbours and stairs), along the Côte d’Azur (beaches, beach roads, downtowns), Aix-en-Provence (brick corners of buildings, statue décor) and Montpellier (check stone office fronts and restaurants.) But there are several smaller cities that sport Invader’s art including as far south as Perpignan (search apartment buildings and downtown streets), westward to Cap-Ferret near Bordeaux (look at the wharfs and seawalls) and eastward to Valmorel (sides of buildings with mountains in the background.)
The fact that Invader is in both large and small cities around the world (along with the International Space Station) shows his popularity. It also indicates that street art is growing in acceptance and appreciation. There is a difference between name tagging which is much of what is seen along the autoroutes (motorways) throughout the world and street art. Invader may have also tagged some autoroutes, but he has a theme and artistic style that many taggers don’t. Simple tagging says, “I’m here.” Invader’s street art says liberate art from stuffy museums and enjoy the moment.
Invader is still actively tagging Paris. I recently flashed a mosaic made in 2023 that really added to the spirit of the street. I’m sure there are more 2023 Invaders that I haven’t found yet, but that is the beauty of Invader. Keep searching. Keep earning points on the app. Keep looking at and enjoying the corners and architecture of Paris and France.
Lead photo credit : Look up to catch an Invader in Paris and throughout France © Martha Sessums
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