The Space Invaders Alien in Street Art

A “Space Invader” mosaic created by the French artist Invader in Shoreditch, London, UK circa July 2007. (Edward Betts/Wikimedia Commons)

Of all the video games that premiered to the world during the 1970s, none became as iconic as Space Invaders. The game became an instant worldwide hit after it premiered in Japan in 1978 and over the past 36 years, the little pixellated Space Invaders alien has seeped out of the arcade machine and into the real world, where it has cemented its place in pop culture.

Outside mainstream media and merchandise, there has been one part of pop culture the Space Invaders alien has invaded in particular and that is the world of urban art. Its minimalistic yet iconic appearance have made it a somewhat common catch in street graffiti or in urban artwork over the past several decades. Since it’s also one of the great video game icons, its place in “geekdom” and “geek art” is also cemented.

Here’s a look at some of the artists who have brought the alien from the acrade game screen to the streets:

1.) Invader’s Mosaics. In cities across the world, mosaics of Space Invaders (and characters from other 1970s-1980s 8-bit arcade/video games) have popped up on the sides of buildings. These mosaics have been created by the mysterious French urban artist Invader.

Like his fellow urban artist Banksy, Invader’s true identity is unknown, but he has built up a fan following worldwide. His mosaics of Space Invaders, Pacman ghosts, Mario and Luigi, and other video game characters – as well as reinterpretations of notorious historical figures and famous works of art – have become highly-acclaimed works of art.

Invader’s SI alien mosaics have popped up in cities such as London (see above) and Manchester, UK, Paris, Monaco, Rome, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and many other cities around the world. As a matter of fact, his first ever mosaic was an alien mosaic which turned up in a Parisian alley in 1998 when he “activated” his first “Space Invaders program”!

Since then, he has made over 1,000 other mosaics, with his largest “invasion” being in Hong Kong, where he has created over 70 mosaics since 2000. In July 2011, he organized a show of his works in Paris titled “Invader 1000”  which featured hundreds of his works. Many of these were Space Invader-themed. In fact, one wall was completely filled with SI alien tiles!

To many, these mosaics – and most other forms of street art for that matter – are an eyesore. To others, they are cute and liven up an otherwise dull street corner or apartment building. And to hardcore fans of the game, waking up one morning and finding one of these mosaics hanging on the side of their building would be a Godsend!

2.) P183’s Moscow Mosaic. One day in April 2012, police in Moscow, Russia were alarmed when a mysterious Space Invader mosaic turned up under a bridge at an industrial park in the city. The sculpture shot lasers at cars passing by, which gave the police even more cause for concern given the past history of terrorist attacks in the city. The area was cordoned off and the bomb squad was called in.

As it turned out, the mosaic was placed there by the anonymous street artist P183, who is Russia’s equivalent of Invader or Banksy. The mosaic was placed there as part of his “Traffic Jam Blaster” project. The lasers being emitted from the mosaic were bouncing off cars just like the laser cannons in the game and no harm whatsoever was intended.

3.) 3D Street Art Project. This year, an amazing street project by famed chalk artist Leon Keer was launched in Lausanne, Switzerland. This project was devoted to none other than Space Invaders!

The exhibit featured a girl in a pit playing the game while being hoisted by a crane. The aliens seems to be descending through the air onto the sidewalk below.

It’s worth mentioning that this exhibit came several years after Invader came to town and peppered Lausanne with Space Invader mosaics!

4.) Statues and Sculptures. Some residents of a neighborhood in Los Angeles will never forget the morning they woke up and found an army of Space Invaders in their street! Actually this alien army was a series of wooden sculptures created by artist Jason Torchinsky for the IndieCade festival for independent games held in LA in October of 2011.

These giant aliens were 12 feet (3.6 meters) tall and 8 feet (2.43 meters) wide. As you can probably guess by looking at pics of them, the original alien pixels from the game were used as a template.

Oh, and since the game’s release in 1978, many other artistic game fans have tried making their own alien statues and sculptures. Some of these aliens have been spotted in living rooms, gardens, and in art exhibits all around the world!

5.) The Space Invaders of Varanasi. In the city of Varanasi in India’s Uttar Pradesh province, graffiti art – as well as a mosaic or two – of the Space Invaders alien can be found on buildings across the city. Who the mystery artist is behind these drawings noone knows for sure, but s/he is widely speculated to be Invader. He has mentioned visiting Varanasi in the past. However, according to themissadventures.com, as of late 2009 he had made no mention of leaving his “calling cards” there. So could it be a local artist who sprayed these aliens onto the wall? Or a foreign artist or tourist who wanted to be the next Invader or Banksy? Who knows.

6.) Snow Sculptures. While it’s not exactly street art, this does qualify as “geek art”! In 2008, a large snow sculpture of a Space Invader turned up at that year’s Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido, Japan on the eve of the game’s 30th anniversary. This snow sculpture was a powerful testament to how much SI has infiltrated not only pop culture, but mainstream art culture as well.

And finally……

7.) Anonymous artists. As mentioned above, the Space Invader has been depicted in all kinds of art forms over the past several decades by artists around the world. Many of these works of art have only gotten marginal attention. Others, such as the “Obey” mosaic based on Shepard Fairey’s famous Andre the Giant Has a Posse painting, have become Internet hits. And others graffiti paintings are nowhere near as famous as the works of street artists such as Invader, but are without a doubt seen by hundreds of passers-by everyday on the sides of buildings, walls, and other public buildings. There’s no telling how many countless Space Invaders have been painted over by the building owners or have just faded away to the elements over the decades…..

The Space Invader has become a pop icon and a symbol of urban art over the nearly four decades since the first Space Invaders arcade machine was unveiled to the world. In what other art forms will this invader from another world manifest itself? And will a Space Invader come to a neighborhood near you? We’ll just have to wait and see!

If you want to read more about these “alien sightings”, here are some more links for you:
http://makezine.com/2011/10/07/how-to-build-giant-space-invaders-as-public-art/ (Interview with Jason Torchinsky about his Space Invaders statues.)
http://www.blastr.com/2012/04/russians_mistake_street_a.php (Article about P183’s Moscow mosaic.)
http://www.tentimesone.com/space-invaders-found-in-varanasi/ (A blog entry about the Space Invaders of Varanasi. Includes plenty of pics!)
https://www.facebook.com/spaceinvadersintheworld (A FB group dedicated to sightings of Space Invaders mosaics around the world.)

(LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The Space Invaders game is a copyright of the Taito Corporation and Square Enix Holdings Co, Ltd. Neither this blog or the blog post are in any way associated with or endorsed by either of these two entities.) 

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