From a young age, Charis Jackson Barrios was fascinated with the concept of storytelling through drawings. Watching cartoons and reading comics were not just entertaining childhood pastimes; they were central in shaping her early artistic interests and aspirations.
“As soon as I realized I could grow up and do this for a living, no one could tell me otherwise,” Jackson Barrios says. “I would watch the special features of Disney movies where the artists would show how they draw the characters. I would follow each step in detail. I would ask my mom to drop me off at Books-A-Million and sit in the comics section and read volumes at a time.”
Jackson Barrios is a graduate of the S.C. Governor’s School of Arts & Humanities and The Cooper Union in New York City, but she didn’t always experience an educational environment that was conducive to honing her artistic passion. Her middle school art classes, for instance, were held in an abandoned girl’s locker room.
“There were no windows. The paint was peeling off the wall from moisture, and I would work on my art projects in a dripping shower stall,” Jackson Barrios recalls. Her experiences at the Governor’s School and The Cooper Union, she says, “were invaluable in my artistic development and instrumental in my awareness of the importance of an arts education.”
“I never wanted my art to be in a gallery or a museum. I wanted it on a screen. Big screen, little screen, any screen.” –Charis Jackson Barrios
Jackson Barrios bought her first drawing tablet at age 12, and since then her primary focus has been on creating art that lives digitally, an interest likely influenced by growing up in the internet age. “I never wanted my art to be in a gallery or a museum. I wanted it on a screen. Big screen, little screen, any screen,” she says. “Even now, printing my art and hanging it on a wall seems strange to me. I want my work to be as easily accessible as the internet is, so I continue to make work that is native to iPhones, tablets, and laptops.”
Jackson Barrios’ art, whether it’s drawings, animation, or comics, often examines relationships – both with others and oneself. “Really what it is is that I like telling stories, and every story is really about relationships,” she says. “I think the connections we have with others and how connected we are with ourselves are at the core of being a human being. We identify ourselves by stories. We live our lives by the stories we tell and by the stories we believe. Relationships and their stories shape every part of our lives.”
Those concepts are explored in Jackson Barrios’ comics series called “Thoughts + Feels,” which she started in April 2017. “[The comics are] about the relationship my heart and brain have with each other. They work through issues together and have cute moments,” she says. “At the time, I was getting over a romantic disappointment. I made the comics to tell myself it’s OK and accept the feelings I had at the time. The comics also go back to the idea of relationships in general and what makes a healthy relationship, whether it’s romantic or not.”
The positive reception for “Thoughts + Feels” has given Jackson Barrios the opportunity to grow her artistic platform online, especially via her Instagram page, @charisjb, which currently has 15,000 followers. She also recently launched an online store that carries enamel pins, a comic book, postcards, and a journal based on the series.
“You have to find the platform that works best for what you do, and you have to be consistent with it. With social media, it’s all about using the platform to your advantage, and honing in on that specific thing that you do,” Jackson Barrios says of building an online audience. “People go on social media to engage with content that adds some kind of value to their lives. They want something that’s entertaining, inspiring, funny, or aesthetically pleasing.”
Jackson Barrios, who in August was named a 2017-18 Brandon Fellow at the Greenville Center for Creative Arts, hopes to use the opportunity to connect with local artists and the growing arts community in Greenville.
“The GCCA is a great environment to be in. I’ve been able to work in my studio space on a daily basis to make new projects and work on my portfolio,” she says. “The Fellowship is a great jumping off point as a young artist beginning to navigate my career. This experience is something I’m so grateful for.”