What would it be like to see a symphony? How can you capture the rhythm of waves or a murmuration in constellations of light? If anyone can offer a visual representation of multi-sensory experiences, multimedia artist Leo Villareal can. As Villareal shares in his conversation with Encounter Culture host, Emily Withnall, “I think of my tools more like instruments in a way. And I’m making kind of visual music.” 

Leo Villareal is a world-renowned artist with roots in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in El Paso and Marfa, Texas. He currently lives in Brooklyn where he owns a gallery and oversees a team of artists, engineers, and programmers. His light sculptures can be seen in galleries in Geneva, London, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Madrid, Washington, D.C., Beijing, Amsterdam, New York, and San Antonio—to name just a few. Villareal’s work can also be seen outdoors on bridges across the Thames in London, on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and illuminating the exteriors of buildings, like the Auckland Theatre Company in New Zealand.  

Among Villareal’s newest light sculptures is Astral Array, an installation on view permanently in the outdoor breezeway to New Mexico Museum of Art’s new Vladem Contemporary location in the Santa Fe Railyard.  

Villareal draws inspiration from the natural world, from Indigenous weaving, and from computer coding and programming. Despite the sometimes-impermanent nature of his installations, many of which are site- and time-specific, he appreciates the cycle of creation and dismantling inherent to his work and to the ways in which his continued experiments with light are visible to all.  

Villareal’s work is usually public-facing, and his name, as an artist, isn’t always prominent or available.  

“I see this parallel between what’s happening in the generative art space and public art in the way that it can access these other huge audiences, but in a different way,” says Villareal, speaking about the similarities between creating NFTs online and creating public light sculptures. “So, I find myself more and more wanting to connect with groups of people, and this has been a great way to do it.” 


New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary 
Illuminated River: A Public Art Commission 

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Encounter Culture, a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios. 

Hosted by Emily Withnall, editor at El Palacio Magazine 
Executive Producer: Daniel Zillmann 
Technical Director & Post-Production Audio: Edwin R. Ruiz 
Recording Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe 
Editor & Production Manager: Alex Riegler 
Theme Music: D’Santi Nava 
Instagram: @newmexicanculture 

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