by Tiara Baker
On August 7th, Memphians from all across the Bluff City came to celebrate the Cooper-Young Festival Kick- off Party and the unveiling of this year’s poster by renowned local artist Jan Hankins.
For over 50 years, Hankins has worked as a commercial muralist and sign maker for several local businesses such as the House of Cruthirds and Balton Sign Company. In fact, some of his workmanship can be found, here, in Cooper-Young, including the Memphis Drum Shop, Memphis Yoga, and Otherlands Coffeebar, all located on Cooper Street.
However, Hankins’ eclectic repertoire extends beyond the Mid-South, having also worked for various businesses throughout Miami. No wonder Hankins was honored as this year’s Cooper-Young Festival poster artist.
But Jan Hankins is a modest man, a stark contrast to his intensely vivid canvasses, which are anything but subtle and silent. In Hankins’ earlier works — such as his politically charged “The 11 Septembers” series that showed at ArtLab in 2012 — his paintings were timely-yet-controversial pieces used to express his political concerns of the George W. Bush administration. And like dreams, which inspire some of his compositions, Hankins’ art ranges from political and religious to relational and romantic. Many murals even take years to complete, Hankins said.
Hankins art has definitely come a long way from Bambi, cars, and army men, which he says were the first “recognizable” art compositions he drew, though toys and many of those same objects can still be found in some of his present work.
Coming from a family of respected painters, Hankins is now bringing his inspiration back to Cooper-Young.
“In some ways, it’s like a homecoming,” Hankins explains of his selection as this year’s Cooper-Young Festival poster artist. “The [poster] honor means a re-connection with the neighborhood from when I lived in the district while attending art school at the Memphis College of Arts.”
Likewise, this year’s festival poster is a nostalgic snapshot of Cooper-Young and the pioneering businesses that helped the neighborhood become the trendy and diverse district it is today. Hankins colorfully captures all four corners of the 1940s intersection with a birds-eye view and fish-eye curvature.
Those who missed the poster unveiling, rightfully deemed the party of the summer, can view Hankins poster in the main lobby of Evolve Bank and Trust (6070 Poplar Ave.), one of the sponsors of this year’s Cooper Young Festival. At least 800 others will be posted at various establishments throughout all corners of the city, including restaurants, bars, retail shops, stores, ice cream parlors, and schools.