Leo Villareal
American artist



We do our best to use images that are open source. If you feel we have used an image of yours inappropriately please let us know and we will fix it.


Our writing can be punchy but we do our level best to ensure the material is accurate. If you believe we have made a mistake, please let us know.


If you are planning to see an artwork, please keep in mind that while the art we cover is held in permanent collections, pieces are sometimes removed from display for renovation or traveling exhibitions.

Leo Villareal
American artist
Be the first to vote…

Birth Date


cnickell's picture


Leo Villareal is famous for his psychedelic light art.

He found his inspiration at none other than the infamous hippie festival Burning Man. Back in the '90s, he erected a strobe light to help him find his campsite. One thing led to another, and now his art is even enjoyed by non-hippies worldwide.  

Leo had always studied art, but it was that Burning Man experience that led him to pursue big, interactive light installations. As his beacon led him home, he felt like it was speaking to him, like a flashing being with its own language and character. Soon after that he says, “What I was doing at Burning Man suddenly I started doing all year long."

Recently, Leo created the world’s largest light installation on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. He stuck 25,000 white LEDs on the 2-mile long bridge, and their softly flashing patterns mesmerize ‘Friscans every night.

People have refused to get a sponsor for this expensive project; SF doesn’t want the lights flashing, like, the Coca-Cola logo. But if the fundraising to make this installation permanent fails to meet the $12M goal, we may have to bid the Bay Lights farewell.


Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Leo Villareal

Leo Villareal (born 1967 in Albuquerque, New Mexico) is an American artist living and working in New York City. His work combines LED lights and encoded computer programming to create illuminated displays. He is represented by Pace Gallery.


Leo Villareal graduated from Portsmouth Abbey School in 1986. He received a BA in sculpture from Yale University in 1990 and a graduate degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP).

The decisive moment that started his career came in Nevada’s Black Rock desert, during the 1997 Burning Man festival when Villareal rigged up a strobe-light array above his tent so that he could find it more easily.

Villareal has permanent installations at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Renwick Gallery and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, as well as in the private collections of contemporary art collectors CJ Follini. His work has also been on display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Madison Square Park in New York City, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, New York, The Northpark Mall in Dallas, and Brooklyn Academy of Music.

On March 5, 2013, Villareal debuted his largest piece to that date, The Bay Lights," a public light installation consisting of 25,000 LEDs strung on the vertical cables of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The installation cost $8 million to install and was activated nightly through 2015. It was replaced in 2016 with a permanent version.

July 17th 2019, the first stage of his Illuminated River project went live, the project is running in three phases, and first bridges to be added were London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Millennium Bridge, and Cannon Street Bridge. Phase Two, will add Blackfriars Road Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, and the Golden Jubilee Footbridges, is planned for autumn 2020 and the entire project by 2022.

His piece 'Optical Machine I' was featured in The Miami Beach Edition during Art Basel Miami Beach. His piece 'Liminal Gradient for (RED)' was displayed at the (RED) auction co-founded by Bono. It was described by architect Sir David Adjaye as "an L.E.D. Rothko".

Leo Villareal is represented by Gering and Lopez Gallery in New York and by Conner Contemporary Art in Washington, DC.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Leo Villareal.