Leo Villareal, Ellipse, 2017, LEDs, stainless steel, electrical hardware and custom software, 17' 6-3/4" × 10' 7-1/4" × 20' 5-3/4" (535.3 cm × 323.2 cm × 624.2 cm), overall installed © Leo Villareal

Leo Villareal



b. 1967, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Lives in New York, NY


(opens in a new window) villareal.net

Leo Villareal works with pixels and binary code to create complex, rhythmic compositions in light.

Firmly rooted in abstraction, his approach uses layered sequencing that results in open-ended and subjective visual experiences. Villareal’s works often reference organic systems and evoke—but do not illustrate—atmospheric elements in that emergent and unexpected behavior occurs without a predetermined outcome.

Having come of age during the first generation of home computers, Villareal was equally fascinated by the use of new technological tools and software. His artistic investigation of artificial space led him to explore installation art, creating environments comprised of found objects, video, light, and sound. While at the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, Villareal’s interest in fragmentation, data, and perspective was materialized in a large light-sequenced landmark. Programmed with a microcontroller, to guide him back to his campsite on the playa, this fundamentally practical invention resulted in mesmerizing patterns visible from miles away, and subsequently became a prototype of his ensuing work connecting software and light.

In 2002, Villareal presented his first fully formed LED sculpture, Hexad (2002), in Sculpture Now at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, Lake Worth, Florida, demonstrating early experimentation with complex patterns, layering combinations of colors, and light intensity. Villareal’s artistic influences, Dan Flavin, James Turrell, and Sol LeWitt among them, point to his own lineage within Minimalism, Conceptual art, and Post-Painterly Abstraction.

In 2003, Villareal produced his first large-scale architectural work, Supercluster, for the group exhibition Signatures of the Invisible at MoMA P.S. 1, New York, in collaboration with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva. Comprised of a large grid of LED nodes, the work’s sequenced light pattern was directly inspired by the traffic and movement around the museum’s urban environment. This use of pixels and binary units, which occur in later art works such as Instance (2018), roots Villareal’s practice in the materiality of mechanical reproduction and mass imagery as well as in the art historical context of printmaking and artists Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein.


Leo Villareal, Large Cloud Drawing 2, 2018, LEDs, custom software, electrical hardware and metal, 68" × 68" (172.7 cm × 172.7 cm), Edition of 3 + 1 AP © Leo Villareal

Keeping in dialogue with the communal experience of public art and architecture, Villareal’s The Bay Lights (2013) was installed on the Bay Bridge, San Francisco. Spanning a monumental 1.8-miles across the bridge, the work became an iconic fixture and was inaugurated as a permanent public work in 2016. Villareal’s Illuminated River, set to be the longest public art project in the world, is an integrated composition that introduces abstract patterns of light and color to the bridges of the River Thames. Set in harmony with the individual characteristics of each structure, the work will respond to the city of London and the natural surroundings of currents, tides, and sky. Lighting up to fifteen bridges across 2.5 miles of land, Illuminated River will be on view for at least ten years.

Interested in identifying the rules and governing structures of systems, Villareal uses custom, artist-created code to constantly change the frequency, intensity, and patterning of LED lights. For Villareal, the essence and medium of his work is code; light and its phenomenological effect is its visible manifestation.

69409.01 (1).jpeg

Leo Villareal, Corona, 2018, OLED monitors, custom software and electrical hardware, 57-1/8" × 97-7/8" × 6-1/2" (145.1 cm × 248.6 cm × 16.5 cm), overall installed, [3] 65" OLED monitors 57-1/8" × 32-5/8" × 6-1/2" (145.1 cm × 82.9 cm × 16.5 cm), [1] 65" OLED monitor, Edition of 5 + 2 APs © Leo Villareal


Leo Villareal, Evanescence, 2018, OLED monitors, custom software and electrical hardware, 57-1/8" × 97-7/8" × 6-1/2" (145.1 cm × 248.6 cm × 16.5 cm), overall installed, [3] 65" OLED monitors 57-1/8" × 32-5/8" × 6-1/2" (145.1 cm × 82.9 cm × 16.5 cm), [1] 65" OLED monitor, Edition of 5 + 2 APs © Leo Villareal


Leo Villareal, Star Ceiling, 2018-19, dimensions variable © Leo Villareal


Leo Villareal, Cloud Drawing 4, 2017, LEDs, powder coated steel, electrical hardware and custom software, 52-1/2" × 52-1/2" × 3" (133.4 cm × 133.4 cm × 7.6 cm), Edition of 5 + 1 AP © Leo Villareal


Leo Villareal, Instance 3, 2018, LEDs, custom software, electrical hardware, steel, 38-3/8" × 38-3/8" × 2-7/8" (97.5 cm × 97.5 cm × 7.3 cm) © Leo Villareal


Leo Villareal, Particle Chamber II, 2017, six-channel digital projection, electrical hardware and custom software, 13' × 17' 1/2" × 15' (396.2 cm × 519.4 cm × 457.2 cm), room, Edition of 3 + 1 AP © Leo Villareal


Leo Villareal, Vessel, 2015, LEDs, custom software & electrical hardware, metal armature, white powder coat patina, 38" × 20" (96.5 cm × 50.8 cm), Edition 3 + 1 AP © Leo Villareal


Leo Villareal, Radiant Wheel, 2016, LEDs, custom software & electrical hardware, metal armature, gold powder coat patina, 60" (152.4 cm) diameter, Edition of 5 + 1 AP © Leo Villareal