From the Streets to the Stratosphere: An Interview With “Space Artist” Invader

11.04.13 Bucky Turco

“Sorry for the late response,” Invader wrote in an email to ANIMAL. “But as you know, I’ve been arrested by the NYPD and it made me lose a lot of time.”

He’s in New York promoting his documentary ART4SPACE and his latest body of mosaic tiles. The signature 8-bit artwork includes a whole host of nostalgia-inducing characters from Snow White to Princes Peach and Donkey Kong, among many others. On Thursday, in the wee hours of the morning, the Paris-based street artist was busted after affixing a tile mosaic to a residential building on Orchard Street and our interview with him was interrupted. ANIMAL caught up with him to talk about his arrest, work with COST and ENX and being labelled “a street artist,” as well as some tips for dealing with the NYPD. 

How many invasions do you plan on doing in NYC while you’re here?
The most I can!

What’s the hardest part about putting up work illegally in New York City? Is it harder to avoid fans with camera-phones or the NYPD?
I try to be the most discreet I can be. But sometimes you have no choice. It’s like playing roulette at casino, you can win or lose!..

[LATER…] Three days have passed since I wrote these words and I have since been arrested putting a piece on Orchard Street. They tried to put pressure on me, when they brought me to the police station. A sergeant told me, “I hope that this arrest will be the end of your graffiti career!” and I was thinking, “You should arrest real bad guys and let me do my work which I consider as a gift to NYC.” I’m out now but they kept my cellphone and I guess the vandal squad is working on it now.

How do you choose your locations?
That is the hardest part of the invasion. I don’t have so many pieces because my mosaics are heavy and fragile, I have to find the best spots for them. It is like doing urban acupuncture! When it comes down to it, I’m very subjective in finding spots.

Do you do it all by yourself or do you have a team that helps?
Both. I need sometimes to have one or two persons with me. It can be helpful.

When someone vandalizes one of your tiles do you fix it? Destroy it? Let it be?
Generally, I let it be.

If a property owner decided to remove one of your tiles, wall and all, how would you feel?
If it is because he doesn’t like it, that’s ok. If it’s to sell it on eBay or to put it in his living room, that doesn’t make me happy. Street pieces are made for the street and for the people in the street to enjoy them.

What was it like to collaborate with COST and ENX?
I’m a huge fan of Cost and Revs. I even did a hyperrealistic sculpture of them a few years ago in one of my shows. Last week, I got in touch with Cost and his new partner ENX. In less than one hour, we had the idea to make a “Graffitile” — a graffiti made of tiles — and the day after we did it!

Will you be collaborating with any other legendary NYC artists?
None scheduled for the moment. There are a few artist I would love to collaborate with in NY like Bast, Todd James, Faile, Neck Face, Andy Warhol and obviously Revs.

As you know, Banksy is in town. Have you ever met him in person? 
I met him a few times, but not in New York. About being here at the same time? It is just a coincidence. What he did in New York was a nice idea, and he did it pretty well.

I know this is a bit of a sore subject, but… is Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash really your cousin? Do you remain close to him? Do you have any hostilities towards Banksy for making your cousin look like a buffoon in Exit Through the Gift Shop or is there some sort of secret street art camaraderie that those outside of the circle will never understand?
Yes, Banksy’s movie is a real documentary and Thierry Guetta is really my cousin. We speak sometimes on the phone but I don’t see him so often because he lives in LA and I live in Paris. No, I don’t have any particular animosity about that. 

How do you feel about being labelled a street artist?
It’s ok to me. I can’t deny it! Even if I don’t particularly like this kind of labeling. Now that I have worked in space, am I a space artist? You see… this kind of labeling is a bit ridiculous.

What in the hell inspired you send one your mosaics way into space?
I had this idea in mind for a while — to send a space invader back to space! I didn’t know how to do it, but was possible to do it in a very DIY way. The piece went in the stratosphere with a small camera and the images are so amazing that I decided to make a documentary about it. This movie represents one year of work and it shows a lot about me.

Are you otherwise interested in space?
I like the idea that we will soon live there.

At the ART4SPACE New York premiere, you appeared on stage wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. What was the significance of choosing that character?
That is the mask used by the Anonymous movement. In a way, I feel close to this movement and it’s a perfect mask to keep my anonymity.

Do you remain anonymous for legal reasons or for the sense of mystery or both?

What’s the upside of staying anonymous? What’s the downside?
The upside is that you can have a normal life. The downside is that you can’t go in a club as a VIP, but that is ok to me because I don’t like clubs.

Have you ever written graffiti? If so, what was the tag?
No, never.

Are there any tips you’d like to pass along to other street artists since your brush with the NYPD?
My main tip would be: Don’t get caught! Surprisingly, some cops might love you work, but they will still lock you up.

(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork, COST/Instagram, lostkaws/Instagram)