Leo Villareal & His Work

New York-based artist Leo Villareal (b. 1967, Albuquerque, New Mexico) works with software and light to create complex, rhythmic artworks. His installations use custom, artist-created programming code, which constantly changes the frequency and intensity of the lights in sequenced patterns.

Multiverse (2008), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Multiverse (2008), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Villareal has made temporary and permanent light sculptures for public spaces and museums including the Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., among others. Hive (2012), his light installation for New York’s Bleecker Street subway station, uses LED lights in honeycomb-shaped arrangements on the ceiling. Colours shift across the hexagonal forms, changing in randomised progressions and resonating with the movement and activity in the station. In 2013, Villareal debuted The Bay Lights on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Running a length of 3km (1.8 miles), the work consists of 25,000 energy-efficient, low voltage LED lights. Villareal was inspired by the surrounding area to guide his custom sequencing, integrating the kinetic motion of the water, air, and traffic to create abstract, organic patterns in light on the bridge’s cables. Displayed in a random order for random amounts of time, the compositions have no preconceived outcome, resulting in sustained visual interest. Initially conceived for a two-year display, the light sculpture was met with positive public response and, through successful fundraising efforts, became a permanent installation on January 30, 2016.

The Winning Project

Artist Leo Villareal and architect Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands present Current, a major public artwork that will bring dynamic light to the bridges that cross the Thames. Using each bridge as a canvas, Villareal uses light and colour to enliven the structures and activate the river. The transformative project is artist-driven, architecturally innovative, and environmentally sustainable, with a contemporary and new way of using software to control light. It joins art and infrastructure to unify the riverscape and create new experiences of cultural engagement in the heart of London.


Concept design for ‘Current’ by Leo Villareal, with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands

The Installation

With an emphasis on abstraction and motion, Current will tie the bridges along the Thames to one another visually while honouring the character and history of each structure. Villareal will create light sequencing for the cables, outer faces, and undersides of bridges using customised computer code. The installation will draw from the artist’s on-site engagement with the natural and social patterns of the surrounding environment, channelling the dynamics of the river and translating them into light. The subtle configurations are fluid and ever-changing, creating variability and enhancing long-term interest. Rooted in abstraction, they can be interpreted by each viewer individually. Current will create a landscape of moments that evolves over time, unfolding a sense of discovery and defining the river as a living, organic system.

Leo Villareal working on The Bay Lights, San Francisco, 2013

Leo Villareal working on The Bay Lights, San Francisco, 2013

Though contemporary in its use of technology, Current is rooted in classic artistic ideas, using colours and light treatments inspired by the palettes of Impressionist masters who were drawn to the Thames for its beauty and vitality. Villareal’s expressive compositions originate with the landscape itself, carrying on the traditions of artists such as Monet, Turner, and Whistler, who worked directly from nature. Sequenced LEDs on the cables and outer faces of select bridges will be accompanied by painterly washes of colour on the sides and undersides of their structures, casting fluid gestures of light that reflect in the water. The site-specific programming adjusts to the ever-changing river and its surroundings, using shifting colours and hues that are drawn from the water’s reflection of the sky during sunset, in moonlight, and at sunrise.

Current will be environmentally sustainable in its sensitivity to the river’s wildlife and its use of LEDs to replace low-efficiency metal halide and fluorescent lamps, significantly reducing the energy consumption of each bridge. Free and available to all Londoners and visitors to the city, it fosters the creation of community while addressing existing public space issues along the river.