Born in El Paso in 1944, Elder has described himself as an artistic chi]d, "cursed with the blessing" of a vivid imagination. He earned accolades and awards for his early multi-media works and journeyed to the West Coast in 1963 with scholarships to study at the Chouinard Institute, now part of California Institute of the Arts. On the way to earning a BFA in 1968, Elder studied with Phil Lieder and Robert Graham (a Chouinard co-founder).
Elder is a longtime resident of the tiny West Texas of Valentine (400 miles west of Austin), which was laid out by his grandfather generations ago. Elder's studio fills an abandoned '30s vintage gas station on the main highway through town. He's a loner and eccentric with a relentlessly restless creative spirit. He is very much a product of his West Texas upbringing, but gifted with a modern artistic vision.
His works range from the American Fetish pieces to experiments with plastics and resins, and with holographic foil and aluminum. His works have been exhibited nationa11y for more than five decades, and Elder art has been co11ected by some of the contemporary art world's most diverse and reputable collectors.
In recent years Elder has become a major figure in tl:e growth of the art community in nearby Marfa, and has earned international notoriety as official representative of the Prada art installation a few miles north of Valentine.