Vicente Telles is an award-winning Santero retablo painter of saints and a highly talented portrait painter from the South Valley of Albuquerque. He is one of a few U.S. Latino artists chosen to participate in the La Malinche Exhibit created at the Denver Art Museum and traveled to the San Antonio Art Museum. His religious santosand watercolor and foraged pigments in paintings are currently in shows in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A brief reference to the santero tradition by a Mexican-American studies professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque piqued his interest in this traditional Mexican and Mexican-American art expression. His curiosity about New Mexican santeros came about at the same time that he decided to leave the university in Albuquerque to work in Los Angeles.
Telles settled in Lawndale, a suburb south of the LA International Airport, where he found a job as a furniture maker. Telles had learned construction from his father who built his family home. At a Los Angeles contemporary metal wall art fabrication company, he worked mainly with wood products and took a special interest in the company’s vast inventory of wood and metal paint products. After a few years of manufacturing work, Telles returned to his hometown of Albuquerque.
Vicente Telles, “Vecinos.” Hecho Gallery. 2023. Photo by Ricardo Romo.
A self-taught artist, Telles's early exhibition of religious santos in 2007 gave him the confidence he needed to devote himself full-time to art. His retablo on metal garnered First Place at the San Felipe de Neri Santero Market in Albuquerque in 2007. Over the next three years, he won Best of Show in Grants, New Mexico, and First Place (retablos) at the New Mexico State Fair. He has won several first-place awards at the Traditional Spanish Market in Santa Fe in the last ten years.
In writing about the 400-year artistic tradition of New Mexico’s santeros, or “saint-makers,” Rosemary Diaz, a writer with the magazine Craftsmanship, noted that the first santeros arrived with the Roman Catholic Missionaries from New Spain in 1598. Today, New Mexican Santeros keep one of the oldest living folk traditions alive. Diaz observed that “distinctions hold the craft to rigid standards, and change is slow to come. But like any living tradition, preserving it means making room for innovation.” Telles is preserving the tradition as well as bringing innovation to this art form.
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