Iliya was born on the 20th of July in 1961 in the city of Plovdiv. He graduated from the School of Fine Arts in the town of Smolyan and then moved on to receive a degree in "Painting" from the Universtiy of Veliko Tarnovo "St.St. Cyril and Methody". For a while, he worked as a teacher at the School of Applied Arts in Tryavna but then decided to dedicate his time to his art. He lives and works in his hometown of Plovdiv.
Throughout the years Iliya Zhelev has been the subject of many successful exhibitions in Bulgaria and internationally. His work is extremely popular in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Zhelev's paintings can be found in numerous private collections in Bulgaria, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, England, and Turkey.
Zhelev's works are abstract paintings, characterized by their own distinct and recognizable style. He is both inspired by Bulgarian folklore and contemporary European Art.