by Heath Hansen
Editor’s note: Soldier of Fortune correspondent Heath Hansen recently came across an artist who creates visceral, dark, and mesmerizing military themed works that he says “do a fantastic job capturing the deepest emotions of the GWOT veteran.” Hansen contacted the artist, Invader Girl, and sends the following conversation.
So, “Invader Girl,” tell me a little about that name! I love it; it’s really catchy!
Do you know the show Invader Zim? I loved the show because it was dark and gritty, it didn’t last long on TV, but the main character Invader had a pup named “Grrr,” haha! Not that cool! One friend said I invade thoughts and memories, that’s why I’m called “Invader”… this version I always liked too. Funny story actually, I wanted the artist name to be 31001 (that’s for another story and some whiskey). When I was new to Instagram my handle was a shortened version of my email: invader_grrr. I’m not super tech savvy, so little did I know that that was what people saw first, but the “grrr” always got changed to invader “girl.” Eventually, I decided that’s how everyone knows me, and so I am now the artist known as “Invader Girl.”
Where did you grow up? Were there quite a few American military families in the area?
I’m originally from Germany. My father was a communications specialist in the Air Force, and stationed out there, when he met my mother. They got married and we moved around every couple of years. When they divorced, my mother had fallen in love with Guam (and I stayed with her); I spent about twenty years there. I got to meet people from all over the world. Crazy to think how many people travel through that tiny island, including lots of military!
What was your initial inspiration to start painting? How old were you then, and now?
I worked at the family bar for a long time – 2006 is about the time I started. Back in those days you could drink at 18. Most of the regulars were, or had been, in the military, I was raised by them. I’ve always done art in some way or another, I didn’t start painting till maybe 10 years ago or so. The stories people would share started to find their way into my work (because a good bartender is also a therapist). I didn’t share any of it; I had no idea what the guys would think of me painting their stories. A family friend, who was a huge influence on my art, asked me to join a fundraiser. I reluctantly agreed to show my work; I sold my first piece ever and was able to help raise a good chunk of cash for the event. So, I put a few more up in the bar and they started to sell, too. I’m 35 now and hope to do this till I’m dead, ha! I hope they find me at my easel with a drink in one hand and a pallet knife in the other.
READ MORE from Heath Hansen in the GWOT.
You’re self-taught? Wow! How long have you been learning the trade (is this a side gig, or full time job now)?
I’ve been working on the craft since I could hold something in my hand (about thirty years of practice), before making this my full time gig. But, even then you never really stop learning; for those who want to go full-time, having a plan and work ethic are a must. You gotta be willing to grind and suck the suck – how bad do you want it!?
You never served, but you really seem to capture the dark grittiness of combat deployments. Where does that vividness come from?
My husband said it best, I’m a “freaky empath.” It comes from the very long nights at the bar. When we close the doors not everyone leaves right away – sometimes they just need to unload. Even in a far away place, the fine powdery sand of the GWOT found it’s way onto that bar counter. That shit doesn’t wipe up easily, it kind of sticks to you.
A lot of your art seems to focus on the guys in the field – the guys outside the wire. Do you have friends that served in the infantry, or special operations?
Back in ‘06, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were well underway, and we had guys coming into the bar rotating through both combat theaters regularly. Old salty guys, heading back, and young pups, wet behind the ears, heading over. Some of these dudes were legit door-kickers, and they were full of stories. Those stories stuck with me. But, I’ve met some epic humans from all walks of life.
Where are you based? How did you end up out there?
I’m currently in the Haymarket area [of Virginia]. I recently purchased a home that I am low-key turning into what we call the “Team House.” We hope to do more and offer more, something like a retreat or in person sessions for custom pieces. I ended up in Virginia because my house of cards finally came crashing down around me, I was extremely depressed and out of control with my drinking, I had given up.
I had one of those rare out of body moments where the world kind of just stopped and I told myself “Fuck it. If you don’t have anything left to lose what the fuck are you doing here? Lets fucking get up and go. Who cares if you fail – its at least worth a shot to try for all the shit you’ve been too afraid to go after anyways.” So, two weeks later, I showed up in Virginia with a back pack and a few bucks. My buddy let me crash in his gear room while I sorted out my new life; I burned all the bridges so there was no way back, only forward. Best fucking decision I’ve ever made.
I’m sure your art goes deeper than simply trying to pay the bills. What is your end goal? What legacy would you like to leave behind?
I want the story of the guys and gals who raised me in that bar to live on for eternity; I want the world to know them, their struggles, their lives – all of it. I fully believe the secrets to really living lay with each of them. I want them to know that, so that when those dark days come – and they will, they know they have the tools and the grit to get through the darkness. They know they can be the light for others in dark places. Just like they turned the light on for me, I will attempt to turn the light on for them – always. I want the work to be a bridge between them and the those who just don’t know. We can teach each other amazing things. I believe with this work we can remind humans of how epic they are, or how epic they can be, and with this we can affect great positive change. Imagine a generation raised by people who have hunted on the edge of the universe – we’d go so much further and see so much more.
And if I do become a world famous artist I hope that over night everyone who has a piece suddenly wakes up to find they have a million dollars hanging on their wall. I’ve heard money doesn’t buy happiness but it can buy a boat. Ha!
Your art has a particular darkness. Is there a reflection of you in each piece? Or are you simply that good at putting the struggle of the GWOT veteran on canvas?
Goes back to the “Freaky Empath.” In 2004 my sister was killed, so when I started bartending I was still carrying a lot of rage and a lot of guilt – I still struggle with the guilt. At the time, I felt I had nowhere to turn and no one to talk to, I was isolated. When I started working at the bar I was confronted by people celebrating life all the time, even on bad days. I was blown away. How could they? The world is a fucked up dark place. I had to know more. I got lucky and people saw that I just needed someone to turn the light on for me. So, over the years, unbeknownst to most of them, they taught me. I listened, soaked it all up, and applied it to everything – including the work.
Do you personalize any of your paintings? If a veteran wanted you to interpret their service, and put it in canvas, would you do it? Walk me through the process… (do they send you pictures, do they tell you their military MOS, what theater(s) they served in, etc.)
Totally! Sometimes it’s based off of a photo, other times a story or experience, or even a poem. Once we figure out the size, I black out a panel – I start every panel black. I read somewhere that it was the artist’s job to create the light, I find it fitting because I want to turn the light on in dark places for others. Then background, sometimes with color, or with no color, then outline, then BAM! Done! Haha!
Paintings are like pieces, once I have the idea or vision it comes together really fast. In some cases a day or two. Then I pack it up like its a hostage (lots of tape – if you have to ask how much tape, you didn’t use enough tape)!
Invader Girl, whose real name is Sarah Rossetti, can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @_invadergirl_