Molly Hankinson: Art with a Message

Written by Polya Pencheva

Art by Molly Hankinson

Driven by her love for storytelling Molly Hankinson’s art transcends the boundaries of mere visual expression, delving into the rich tapestry of narratives that shape our collective consciousness.

Art has always been a means of conveying messages, especially street art. Each stroke, each line or each pixel is a visual that carries a message from the artists to the viewer. This message can be an idea, criticism, emotion, or a question. Therefore, art turns into more than just aesthetics. It is a way to communicate with the artist, to learn about their values and morals. This has also been the case for Molly Hankinson.

 “In my art I want to focus on stories and narratives that have been historically underrepresents and I want to celebrate this in an unapologetic assertive way,” says the muralist.

Hankinson is a visual artist, illustrator, and a muralist above all. She is from London but currently resides in Glasgow. As a graduate from The Glasgow School of Art, she has always nurtured a passion for the creative world. ‘From a really young age I have always loved drawing,’ explains Hankinson. ‘I’ve always been interested in art, and I’ve never had a math or science brain,’ add the artist. Before she wanted to be an artist, Hankinson wanted to be a writer which pushed her to take up creative writing at school.

She loves telling stories and her art is one way to translate her love for narratives. ‘For me the whole journey was a natural progression and I really enjoyed it,’ mentions Hankinson.

Art by Molly Hankinson

“In my art I want to focus on stories and narratives that have been historically underrepresents and I want to celebrate this in an unapologetic assertive way,” says the muralist. According to Hankinson, she has always been interested in representing people and stories. She also adds that she is quite figurative in her representation.

The main topics Hankinson focuses on are representation of women and marginalized genders. “I want to be able to create work that all people can relate to,” asserts Hankinson. “I am not interested in providing space for things that already have space and visibility.” Her art’s goal is bridging the gap between these topics and bringing light to topics she is passionate about. Therefore, one of the most common topics revolving around her murals focuses on the politics of body.

“I was commissioned to create eight original artworks that represent the eight human rights in the consent consensus for sex workers. These rights include the right to be free from violence, the right to freedom of choice and freedom of employment.”

“For me if you create work that you find exciting, and you also find it relevant and important and you’re passionate about it, the right people will be also interested in what you do,” says Hankinson. This is how she got approached by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. “I was commissioned to create eight original artworks that represent the eight human rights in the consent consensus for sex workers. These rights include the right to be free from violence, the right to freedom of choice and freedom of employment.” These fundamental human rights are something we often take for granted. But this isn’t the case for sex workers because their job is still criminalized in many countries. “I was incredibly humbled and lucky to be approached by them and to see that they thought that my works translates well into what they wanted to represent in their work.”

Art by Molly Hankinson

Besides this project, Hankinson has worked on other art works that represent contemporary femininity. “I need to be mindful because it is my responsibility to be intersectional in the way I represent people. For me, it is important to be able to allow as many people as possible to see themselves in my art. Otherwise, I don’t think I would be doing this job properly.”

Hankinson’s art not only conveys messages. It also tells stories about people and places. She opens up about some of the background stories behind her murals. “I tend to work a lot with the communities that the murals are painted in,” elaborates Hankinson. “For me it is really important that the community has some sense of ownership over the artwork after it is painted so I try to focus on the heritage of the area or the things that the people of the community want to represent.”

Art by Molly Hankinson

One such piece is a mural close to the community gardens of Glasgow. Hankinson worked closely with the community garden group of people who helped her choose what plants to include in her mural. “I painted runner beans growing in the community garden and the Scottish bluebells which are kind of the unofficial national flower of Scotland,” elaborates further Hankinson.

The woman on the mural is inspired by a figure called ‘Big Rachel.’ She was nicknamed Big Rachel because she was tall six feet four and she was a ship builder. Hankinson also mentions that the woman was known for smoking a pipe and that is why the woman depicted on the mural has a little clay pipe tattoo on her arms. “There’s all these kind of Easter eggs in the design to make people of the community feel part of the conversations,” exclaims Hankinson. Moreover, there is another woman who inspired the mural. “She was called Margaret Thompson and she used to work in the community. She died recently and I think everyone was given a red star at her funeral,” mentions the artist. This is also the reason the woman on the mural has a little red star on her t-shirt.

Art by Molly Hankinson
Art by Molly Hankinson – ‘Big Rachel’

For Hankinson murals function as a reflection of the community but also to amplify her messages. Her first outdoor mural is called ‘Educate, Don’t Hate’. “I wanted to highlight the things that are not necessarily taught in school but are still very important,” says Hankinson. Next to the figure there is a pile of books that have different socially engaged subjects such as mental health, understanding privilege, and inclusive activism. “These are all things that are not necessarily in the curriculum but are extremely valuable and that I’ve learned outside of school,” notes Molly.

“For me it is really important that the community has some sense of ownership over the artwork after it is painted so I try to focus on the heritage of the area or the things that the people of the community want to represent.”

Hankinson has collaborated with The Body Shop, Sky Arts, Fritz Kola, the Scottish Football Association, Chivas Regal, and CoppaFeel!. Recently, she was announced to be amongst the talented lineup for the 2024 Nuart Aberdeen Festival.

Hankinson’s style is unique in incorporating the aesthetics of bright colours with the use of continuous lines. “I’ve always enjoyed line drawing and I’ve always enjoyed using a graphic style,” mentions Molly. “I guess I have many different things that influenced me, and I am not quite sure where my style cane from. It just developed naturally. The first time I think I started dabbling with this style was in my fourth year in the art school. I did some portraits of people in my degree and then I just kept exploring this. At first, they were all hand-drawn on paper. They were analogue. I would scan them or take photos of them and fill them digitally. That’s why my visuals came out so flattened and graphics.”

Art by Molly Hankinson

Hankinson’s journey through art and activism is a testament to the power of creativity and storytelling. Her murals stand as an expression of the resilience of marginalized voices and the enduring spirit of human connection. In addition to this, Hankinson’s art reminds us that art is not just about creating beauty. it is also about creating change and provoking action. This is a reminded that art’s true power is hidden behind its ability to touch hearts and spark conversations for a better tomorrow.

Polya Pencheva obtained her master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Groningen and the Netherlands and likes to talk about traveling, entertainment, street art, and innovation in her stories. During her free time, she enjoys playing board games and reading. Her favorite superhero is Spider-Man and she believes that with great power comes great responsibility. The way to her heart is black coffee, a good book and some chocolate.

Insta: @polyawrites