While her talent has garnered national attention, Ija Charles’ true strength lies in her love of people and community.
COLUMBIA, SC – Ija Charles is a superhero. Armed with artistic talent and an attitude of gratitude, she spreads joy to every canvas her brushes touch.
“I’ll use my superpowers to help,” Charles said.
While her talent has garnered national attention from celebrities, city leaders and national organizations, her true power lies in her love of people and community.
“A lot of people might go through life knowing there’s not a lot that’s good, but if I made you smile for a second then I’ve done my job,” the 25-year-old explained. “I can’t help everyone, but I know my work will reach more people than I will ever speak in my life.”
Her mission statement is “painting positive vibes on the canvas of life,” which she has been doing since elementary school.
The autodidact discovered her love of art as a child. “It was therapy for me,” Charles said. “Growing up, when I was grappling with things, whether at school or at home, art was my escape rather than taking a negative path.”
Even though her parents, who are veterans, could not always afford art supplies, they supported her passion with constant encouragement, support and love. “They let me be me,” Charles said. “They were always there to pat me on the back and let me know, ‘We don’t know where you’re going, but we’re here for you as long as you give 110% to yourself,” she recalls.
Over the years, as her talent grew, so did the attention her work received from peers, teachers, and community members.
Charles devoted himself to art as a full-time career and continued to work to nurture her talent. “I would draw pictures for people for $25 and I would finish them very, very quickly, whether I was at the bowling alley or at school,” Charles recalls. “I’ve gotten really comfortable doing things outside of my comfort zone.”
At age 17, Charles became a nationally commissioned artist, creating the first Black History Month banners for the city of Houma, Louisiana.
RELATED: SC student commissioned for painting in Louisiana Town
After graduating from Westwood High School, Charles moved to New Orleans and worked in a variety of roles including cake decorator and carnival float decorator.
After establishing herself as an artist, she moved back to the Palmetto State.
“I feel like South Carolina is misunderstood, misrepresented, and people are always leaving,” Charles said. “I do not go anywhere.”
Since returning to the Midlands, Charles has completed at least 15 murals in South Carolina. Residents can see their work on the sides of several buildings, including the Richland Library on Assembly Street, The Wonders of Cayce art corridor, and Immersion – an interactive art gallery on Main Street in downtown Columbia.
RELATED: Added new mural to Cayce’s “Original Heart.”
Charles is also responsible for the mural on the corner of Washington Street and Main Street, reminiscent of Columbia’s Black Wall Street. It was a thriving black business from the early 20th century through the early 1970s, according to the Richland Library.
RELATED: Local artist creates mural commemorating black history in Colombia
Her talent was also recognized nationally when she was tapped to create a play for the NFL’s National Artist Replay Initiative and appeared on BET (Black Entertainment Television).
RELATED: Local artist being featured by the NFL
Whether it’s a personal piece or a mural, Charles pours her emotions into each painting. “It’s part of me, they are my children,” she explained. “When people buy my work, they take a soul with them.”
While her work is a form of therapy, it is also an opportunity to honor communities of color. “I think it’s irresponsible of you not to create things based on what you know, I know my people,” Charles said. “To be able to spread a renaissance of joy in my community by showcasing people who look like me, like you look…it just makes me feel good to be able to do something like that.”
Charles is fully booked and busy with several new projects. Despite being busy, she hopes to find time to mentor emerging artists in hopes they can avoid the challenges she faces navigating the industry.
She also hopes to create murals outside of the United States and is interested in animation.
No matter where her talents take her, Charles says the Palmetto State will always be her home. “I just want to bring it (joy) to South Carolina because it’s been brought to me my entire life.”
RELATED: Local artist Ija Charles was featured at Columbia Airport through May
RELATED: New art at the Richland Library honors the Black Lives Matter movement