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Fifteen years ago, Elias Telles woke up from a dream in which an angel holding a lit candle was descending a staircase. The next morning he tore some wood from a dilapidated fence and started painting angels on it. Like many self-taught artists, Elias had already led an adventurous and colorful existence before embracing his calling as an artist. Born into a family of fourteen siblings in East Los Angeles, he joined the Marine Corps straight out of high school and served two years in Vietnam as a rifleman.
Upon returning home, he experienced undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and could only subdue the demons by producing drawings that he would quickly destroy. It wasn’t until he was in his late forties that he started painting. At a local flea market one of his early works caught the attention of a set designer who placed it in a Steve Martin movie; his paintings have subsequently appeared in a number of other productions and made him a sought-after artist in Hollywood, where his collectors include film directors Michael Mann and Chantal Ackerman. His work is part of the permanent collection at the House of Blues and he was one of the featured artists on the PBS series ‘Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations’.
Elias couldn’t be much further from the Hollywood type. This genial ex-marine lives quietly in Montebello, without a computer or a cell phone. His tastes lean towards American history and early blues and country music - subjects that frequently appear in his paintings. Soldiers, skeletons and honky-tonk men populate his paintings; he often depicts cultural and historical figures, such as early minstrel show entertainer Gus Cannon, a ghoulishly-rendered Hank Williams, and the revered Alabama folk artist Bill Traylor, as well as portraits of anonymous schoolteachers and sailors with sad eyes and downwardly-curved mouths. These compositions are usually adorned with text and possess a strong sense of pattern and outline, with expressive colors harmonizing in flattened space, and they are always presented in elegant handmade wooden frames. His brightly cluttered landscapes exude a celebratory atmosphere of unadulterated Americana, recalling the work of Horace Pippin and Grandma Moses, but infused with a contemporary sensibility. A painting of a funeral features the phrase ‘Be kind to your mind,’ and indeed, these works are therapeutic for both the artist and the viewer.
Having recently retired from his lifelong trade of brick laying and marble-setting, Elias is now able to devote himself entirely to his work.