Leo Villareal's work is focused on stripping systems down to their essence to better understand the underlying structures and rules that govern how they work. He is interested in lowest common denominators such as pixels or the zeros and ones in binary code. Starting at the beginning, using the simplest forms, Villareal begins to build elements within a framework. The work explores not only the physical but adds the dimension of time combining both spatial and temporal resolution. The resulting forms move, change, interact and ultimately grow into complex organisms that are inspired by mathematician John Conway's work with cellular automata and the Game of Life.
Villareal has created many site specific works including: Light Matrix for the Auckland Theater Company, in Auckland, New Zealand; Volume (Frisco), at the Dallas Cowboy’s Headquarters in Frisco, Texas; Buckyball at The NorthPark Center in Dallas, TX; Light Matrix at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Volume (Renwick), for the Renwick Gallery at Smithsonian in Washington DC, Radiant Pathways, Rice University in Houston, Texas; Cosmos, at the Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Multiverse, The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; Diagonal Grid, Borusan Center for Culture and Arts, Istanbul, Turkey; Stars, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York, and Hive, for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at the Bleecker Street subway station in Manhattan.
Villareal's work is in the permanent collections of many museums including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, Kagawa, Japan; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
On March 5, 2013 Villareal inaugurated The Bay Lights, a monumental 1.8-mile-long installation of 25,000 white LED lights on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge which has since become a permanent installation.
In December of 2016 the Illuminated River Foundation announced the selection of Villareal’s artistic vision, for London’s 15 bridges spanning the River Thames.