Santero Vicente Telles will present his work at the 70th Annual Traditional Spanish Market – Albuquerque Journal | Candle Made Easy

Albuquerque artist Vicente Telles, who will be exhibiting his work at Santa Fe’s Traditional Spanish Market. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

bright spotAt just 39 years old, Albuquerque Santero Vicente Telles has already created works that hang in two museums.

Last month, the Denver Art Museum bought its retablo (devotional painting) of La Malinche (2018). The piece currently hangs at the Albuquerque Museum in Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche, a traveling exhibition from Denver.

Vicente Telles, “La Malinche”, 2018. (Courtesy Denver Art Museum)

In 2021, the Albuquerque Museum purchased its joint corner altarpiece with Santa Clara Pueblo tile artist Jason Garcia. The panels turn to show Telles’ version of La Malinche, a key figure, albeit controversial, in the Aztec conquest.

Telles will be exhibiting his work at the 70th annual Santa Fe Traditional Spanish Market taking place on Saturday 30th July and Sunday 31st July.

In 1926, the Spanish Colonial Art Society launched the market for Hispanic artists to display and sell their traditional handcrafted objects. The market did not operate during and after World War II until 1965, when the traditional Spanish market was revived along with the Indian market as an annual event at Santa Fe Plaza.

It has since grown into the oldest and largest juried art exhibition and auction of its kind. Around 200 adult and young artists compete for prizes in 18 categories. Visitors will find retablos, bultos, jewellery, leatherwork, ceramics, embroidery, pewter work, fur painting, ironwork, textiles and more.

Telles will release around 25 retablos.

“A handful of them will speak about the afflictions women are going through now, like the fall of Roe v. Wade,” he said.

No stranger to controversial issues such as frontier issues, Telles is also a created St. Antoninus.

“He’s the pro-choice Catholic saint,” Telles said.

He also added St. Thekla in honor of women’s strength.

“They aren’t as overtly political as some I’ve done, but it’s for the strength these poor women are going through,” he added. “Faith learns to constantly ask questions. And don’t judge.”

He is also exhibiting his works on paper with fellow conspirator Garcia in Axle Contemporary’s mobile art truck, concurrent with Spanish Market.

Telles’ work takes up the imagery of the classic New Mexican Santeros and adds a contemporary touch to the iconography. San Ysidro, the patron saint of farmers and gardeners, usually carries a hoe.

“How do I put it in a form that makes sense to me and to someone else?” he asked.

Telles created a series of portraits in which he combined Morrell’s blue lard can with images of Pueblo, Hispanic, and Mexican families. The tin crowns the counters of many New Mexico kitchens as it is used to make tortillas and bizcochitos.

Albuquerque artist Vicente Telles is working on a new piece. Telles will be exhibiting his work at Santa Fe’s traditional Spanish market. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Telles began making art after dropping out of college at the University of New Mexico (much to his family’s chagrin) and began working at a metal wall art company in Los Angeles. Ironically, it was a UNM professor who told him about the Santeros. There weren’t any in his family.

“I had plenty of time, so I started painting,” he says. “I wasn’t very good. I saw the soul in those old pictures and moved on.”

He began researching Retablos and became acquainted with the saints and their attributes, as well as the artists.

He shuttled back and forth between California and New Mexico for a time before finally returning in 2014.

“I don’t think I remember being an artist anymore,” he said. “If I don’t do it for a while, I feel weird; there is just something missing.”

Telles uses natural pigments in his work. He used to collect and ground them himself, but time pressure made him more practical and he now buys them locally.

“When I’m in nature, I like looking at the ground and the rocks,” he said.

New Mexico santero Charles Carrillo is a huge influence.

“We mostly talked about history and the stories,” Telles said. “He made a lot of people think more critically about this work; how they informed the villages to which they belonged. He is not satisfied with repeating the same thing. He’s always trying to find his niche. The art form can become quite rigid. How do I become a chapter in a book instead of a footnote?”

The crucial role of the Santeros in New Mexico history fuels his passion.

“The artist at the time was one of the first abstract artists,” he said. “There is an indigenous influence in this work that needs more recognition. They exchanged pigments and knowledge.”

Post-Spanish Market, Telles is hosting an August 5 exhibition featuring 60 Southwestern artists at four Albuquerque galleries: Exhibit 208, South Broadway Cultural Center, Tortuga Gallery and El Chante: Casa de Cultura.

Telles has won numerous awards at the Spanish Market and the New Mexico State Fair. His work hangs at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque’s Holy Family Catholic Church, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Dallas, Texas, and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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