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Plano artist finds late-in-life talent
Ronnie Baker / Staff photo - The works of Elliot Fallas line the walls in his home. Although he prefers to paint landscapes, Fallas experiments with portraiture and still life.
When most people retire, they take up typical activities – golf, needlepoint, volunteer work. Plano resident Elliot Fallas has taken his freedom in a different direction.
He spends hours in his home art studio painting every single day surrounded by finished and unfinished works, tubes of oils and countless brushes. Every wall in the Fallas’ converted room is blanketed in the colors that speak to this artist’s creative side.
Elliot, 72, always had in interest in painting but never took up the hobby in favor of making a steady living. But a tour of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, in 1997 sparked the beginning of a beautiful relationship between retiree and canvas.
“We went to Europe – my wife and I and this boy [son David], he was our tour guide in Europe. He had been there five or six times playing soccer (with my money) before Rose and I ever went. We were in the Louvre and I said to him, ‘When I get old and I retire I think I’m going to fool around and paint,’” Elliot said. “I always had interest but never wanted to be a starving artist... it’s a hard way to make a living. And he said to me, ‘Well, why wait, Dad?’ He bought me my first set of oils and my boy that lives here said, ‘Dad, go take the credit card, go shopping and get whatever else you want.’”
And, like that, Elliot’s new hobby, new life and new income took off.
From the Big Apple to the Big D
Growing up in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, N.Y., Elliot was expected to start working the family business at a young age.
“Elliot grew up from the time he was 13 running [retail] stores in the Northeast for his father, and they were all expected to be participants,” said Rose Fallas, Elliot’s wife of 43 years. “The parents just expected it at 9, 10 or 11 that you’re able to do business.”
When he was young, Elliot drew cartoons of the animals he saw in “Field and Stream” magazine but wasn’t able to see in the heart of New York.
During his high school years, Elliot’s family moved to Florida. Because he had transferred during the middle of the school year, he had to replace some classes with fillers, one being art appreciation. He loved the class, he said, so he pursued it every year.
Later, college, marriage and family got in the way and any potential for a budding art career came to a halt.
“In my time, there’s no way my dad would have sent me a check like an allowance because I ‘almost’ sold a painting,” Elliot said. “Today, I think the parents are more understanding of what their kids want to do, but I would guess that they have more money than I did when I grew up so they can afford to be a little more lenient with the kids.
“No way did I want to be a starving artist. I wanted to be in advertising. I wanted to be the exec that told the artist, ‘Move the boat over here so I can put the copy here.’ But I couldn’t even get a job for $35 a week as a mail clerk. I was already making a man’s salary while I was in college working retail so I went to work and that was the end.”
Elliot stuck with the daily grind and met Rose in Texas when their paths crossed while they were working for the same company.
The couple lived in California for a short time until Los Angeles earthquakes and the Watts riots of 1965 drove them to New York to be near family. By that time, Elliot and Rose had two sons, David and Michael. Despite the homecoming for Elliot, the stint was short-lived.
“Rose hated it and I hated it. I was working retail six, seven days a week, 14 hours a day and my kids were 3 and 5 – just no life for me or my kids or Rose,” Elliot said. “We didn’t want to go back to California and we had friends here and we felt like we’ll come here.”
He worked as a retail wholesaler of artificial flowers then until he retired; Elliot sold ladies clothes at the Apparel Mart in Dallas.
Old Man With a Brush
Early on in his art career at 62, Elliot began taking classes at Carpenter Park Recreation Center once a week, a habit he keeps to this day.
For the past 10 years Elliot has worked with art teacher Lap Ngo at the rec center.
“I haven’t missed a season from him. He is above and beyond anything that should be in Plano teaching. He can paint in any style possible. He can do maybe seven to 10 different styles,” Elliot said. “When I first started painting, I didn’t want to take classes because I didn’t want to go to a class where they tell you, ‘OK, do a bowl of daisies,’ and I didn’t want to paint daisies. I wanted to paint what I wanted to paint.
“He doesn’t force everybody to do a bowl of fruit. You can do something surrealistic and I’ll do something impressionistic and the girl next to me will do something more with folk art. Everybody does something they want to do and he has the knowledge to correct and encourage you to get better at it. He’s just very encouraging and he has an answer for whatever. I call him sometimes weekly besides the classes to ask him a question.”
For the love of color
Elliot’s fondness for coordinating the ladies clothing he sold as a teen and into adulthood has translated easily to his use of color in painting.
In the early ’60s when he lived in California, Elliot ran a ladies boutique selling the latest fashions to Hollywood starlets. Even then, he had a penchant for designing just the right window display to draw in the shoppers.
“We knew from early on that he had a good nose for window design,” Rose said. “We knew that he could coordinate women’s clothing, women’s shoes, that kind of thing. But never a clue that he could ever put anything on canvas.”
Elliot considers his style as impressionistic. He has no interest in photorealistic accuracy.
“Some people want that to be an accurate picture of the villa – I’m more concerned with, ‘Do the colors give you a feeling of enjoyment?’ not, ‘Is it the most accurate?’” he said. “I may take out two windows that are the wrong color. If Rose takes a shot of somewhere in Rome, I’m taking out an aluminum bus that doesn’t float my boat. I want an awning there.
“I use the example of cooking without recipes. To some people, everything is a recipe – if it tells you a quarter of a pinch of this, that’s what they use. Other people are like, ‘Let’s experiment and see what comes out and we’ll see if we like it.’”
Elliot’s settings and colors are indicative of his love for Europe, specifically the Mediterranean. In visits with Rose and his sons, Elliot has built up an impressive collection of photos he uses for inspiration.
“Europe is very easy to paint – the Mediterranean has beautiful colors. You don’t have to work on colors in the Mediterranean – it’s just there,” Rose said. “I think we had 900 to 1,000 photos on the last trip. They were not all paintings. What they were was a certain color of a tree or a certain flower or a door. He would see something – a color – and one of us would take a picture of it.”
When Elliot chooses colors to use, he defers to his training as well as his own aesthetic. And he’s not opposed to critique.
“I could be 20 percent through with a painting and be happy with it. I could be 80 percent through with another one and not be happy and put it aside for three months before I know what it is I want to do. I could be in bed trying to go to sleep and I’ll say, ‘You know what, I’m not happy with the sky in that painting’ – whether I see it or not. I won’t be happy until I get the color that I want, so it’s trial and error also,” he said. “I don’t shut off. I’m not worried about making a mistake with the color. Until I’m happy, I just keep playing with it.”
Although he has dabbled in portraiture, Elliot prefers to paint the European landscapes he loves to visit.
“I love the water and I love the idea of traveling. Venice and Portofino are my two favorites in Italy. I like the warm weather. I like good food when we travel,” he said. “It’s the sights and the color that inspire me. That’s what incited me to want to paint even before we went to the Louvre. You see statues that are 500 years old and it’s part and parcel of some little village. We don’t have that over here.”
Elliot has also become part of the Jewish art community, Rose said, but he has all his bases covered with the occasional commission for crosses.
A lucrative hobby
“One of my first teachers bought one of my first paintings and said, ‘Elliot, you have to try to sell,’ and I just thought she was being nice,” Elliot said. “But there was a gallery here in Plano and the woman took three pieces right away. She called me up a week and a half later and says, ‘I sold all three pieces. Somebody took two and somebody took one.’”
Surprised he could actually make money with his painting, Elliot took his teacher’s advice and began selling in local galleries and now regularly works art shows in the Dallas area. Rose said Elliot has accumulated a number of customers who buy multiple times.
“I am a little surprised. I think I should have known that from the beginning. I knew that if he did do well it would be because he’s a businessman. He talks to the people,” Rose said. “Many artists, if you go in their booths they’re reading the newspaper or they’re on the computer; that never works for us.”
She said customers want to hear the stories of each painting – where he was, what he was thinking that day.
Elliot gains gratification from his work – not only because he loves what he does, but because gets to meet the collectors who favor his work: couples buying their first painting for a new home; children buying with their own money; even out-of-work customers looking for a way to brighten their day.
“For me, this is more fulfilling than anything I’ve ever done sales-wise,” he said. “One show we had, we sold three newlywed couples their first painting. That’s a big charge. And there’s other artists there and that’s what they do for a living. That’s the emotional part. It’s very heartwarming because when you’re trying to make a living all your life, you’re just trying to make a living. It had nothing to do with what you made, produced. You put your heart and soul in [art]; it’s definitely a personal thing.”
When Elliot makes a new customer, it’s usually for keeps. Rose said many buyers have become family friends.
Plano resident Julie Gothard, who has bought three of Elliot’s paintings, first saw one of his Italian landscapes at the Jewish Arts Festival.
“That one sits above our piano. We got to know him a little bit then bought another and then we commissioned one from of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai,” Julie said. “We liked being able to commission and get what we want. We liked his style and his use of color.”
Their commissioned painting hangs above the fireplace and their other painting of a man at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem hangs in the bedroom.
“We’ll really like [the customers] a lot. And if you put most of them in this house, they’d have so much in common it’d be scary,” Rose said. “They’re somewhere within 10 years of each other. Most of them are married, they have one or two kids, this is usually their first house, etc. Our sons would fit right in the middle of them as the type of customer that buys more than one.”
Although she’s not interested in joining her husband, Rose plays an important role in Elliot’s art. She said every artist needs his “gofer” and she’s more than willing to play that role.
“If I get too far, I hear him – ‘Rose, Rose, Rose.’ He now has learned to clean his own equipment; that I refuse to do,” Rose said. “His instructor of many years told him a few years ago – you have to keep your equipment clean. Because what was happening is the colors were smearing, running together and he wasn’t getting the clean lines. Occasionally he goes out there and sits on the patio because I don’t like the smells of all the chemicals and all that. But I try to keep him better organized.”
She said Elliot’s painting has been a blessing for husband and wife alike.
“All wives will tell you, ‘What do I do with these men under my feet?’” she said. “He’s happy and he’s busy and he’s out of my hair.
“I think he’s changed because he’s confident, he’s happy and now he’s healthy. So it makes me happy, makes my life a lot easier. We’ve enjoyed it together. It’s been a good retirement for both of us; obviously for the extra income, but as well, he’s a very happy man.”
In the past, Rose has helped Elliot at art shows but has stepped down to make room for the couple’s 17-year-old grandson Steven, who helps “Papaw” set up his tents and speaks with potential customers.
None of the Fallas’ three grandsons appear yet to have any interest in painting; however, their grandfather didn’t either until he was a mature adult, and their father and uncle share the artistic gene.
The Fallas’ son Michael – father to Steven, Joshua, 12, and Spencer, 2 – is a landscape artist who owns Fallas Landscape in Plano.
Son David left his career as a Stanford Law-educated international business consultant to become a screenwriter and film director. Under the name David Elliot, he has written films such as “Four Brothers” as well as the reincarnation of “GI Joe.”
Elliot has no plans to stop painting. It’s a blessing that keeps him young, he said. He and Rose are content to spend their golden years surrounded by Elliot’s art. Their home is bursting with original paintings from the studio to the hallway. And if those paintings sell, Rose said she knows Elliot will come up with another she likes just as well.
To see and purchase Elliot’s work visit ElliotFallas.com.
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