Inspiration from Nature: Villareal

September 10, 2012  |   Feature,   News
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A wall inside El Paso’s new Antoine Predock-designed federal courthouse pulsates with LEDs. Shades of orange gradate to pink, red and white, then slowly glow with hints of blue, all in mesmerizing simulation of the West Texas desert sky. The permanent installation, titled SKY, is the newest public piece by New York-based artist Leo Villareal. It’s entirely generated by complex computer codes.

Sky by Leo Villareal (2010) U.S. Courthouse in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Leo Villarreal

“In sequencing light, I found a lot of inspiration with things in nature, like wave patterns,” says the El Paso-bred art star, 43. “It’s exciting to me that a code could feel alive and as if it was communicating.”


Art in Architecture/Fine Arts program at the General Services Administration

The mission of the Art in Architecture program is to ensure that every federal building houses artwork by the country’s most talented artists. While the term “federal building” might evoke powerhouse Washington institutions like the Departments of Justice or Agriculture, it also encompasses courthouses, immigration services, border patrol stations, and even certain post offices found across the nation. For every new building, GSA receives a half-percent of estimated construction costs to commission new artwork. The result is a canon of artwork that not only reflects a given region and audience, but captures the spirit and aesthetics of a moment in time.


After graduating from Yale in 1990, Villareal became interested in computer technology and received a master’s degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. His first light sculpture, created for the 1997 Burning Man festival, was “a utilitarian piece, something I used for finding my home.”

check out:  Sky Study

Leo Villareal, “Sky (Study),” 2009,  LED’s, custom electronic, translucent diffusion screen, 21 x 13 x 4 1/2 inches, Limited edition of 5

This work is a study for a larger installation in the lobby of the new federal courthouse in El Paso, TX. In this piece, a number of LEDs are encased within a translucent diffusion box, smoothly and continuously shifting colors and intensities to give an impressionistic version of the southwestern sky. The sequence itself is constantly changing, controlled by a complex computer code written by the artist. Villareal describes it as a digital mural that synthesizes the organic and the technological, visually manifesting an animated portrait of the sky.