Artist is drawing a crowd: 8,363,710 New York City residents
From the back, the side, eating a Burrito Supreme, splayed on a gallery couch in the Museum of Modern Art, rolling a suitcase across Grand Central Station, riding the No. 7 subway to Queens, buying pizza in Brooklyn. Illustrator Jason Polan has made it a mission to sketch every person in New York City, all 8,363,710 of them.
Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK — Jason Polan cannot talk on the phone right now. He is on his way to Taco Bell in Union Square to draw unsuspecting New Yorkers.
At 27, he has made it a mission to sketch every person in New York City, all 8,363,710 of them. From the back, the side, eating a Burrito Supreme, splayed on a gallery couch in the Museum of Modern Art, rolling a suitcase across Grand Central Station, riding the No. 7 subway to Queens, buying pizza in Brooklyn.
He even captured Jerry Seinfeld scratching his head in a Midtown burger joint.
Polan says he is just another New Yorker, never mind that he was born in a small town 20 miles outside of Detroit and moved here a few years ago after graduating from college in Michigan.
"I'm a New Yorker," he says. "My mom's family is from Westchester."
In the great tradition of those cabdrivers from the Khyber Pass who are here six weeks and declare themselves natives, Polan had only just dropped anchor in a studio apartment the size of a city bus when he began the dogged pursuit of his expansive goal with nothing more than a black pen and a notebook the size of a DVD box.
The vastness of this city makes a lot of people want to find some way to experience the whole of it. Impossible, of course, but tell that to the woman trying to sample food here from every country in the world or the guy hellbent on eating a slice of cheese pizza from every pizzeria. He traverses the five boroughs concentrating on mom-and-pop shops where you can still get a slice handed to you on a piece of wax paper for $1.50. In his manifesto on a foodie Web site, he declared, "You may be asking yourself, who is this guy and what does he know about pizza? Well, truth be told I am just some schmuck from New York with too much time on my hands."
The pizza man e-mailed Polan to ask him to draw him in a sort of harmonic convergence of Don Quixotes.
There is no big hurry, Polan says he told him. "We'll both be at it for a while yet."
It's been almost two years and about 8,300 drawings since Polan began spending part of every day sketching New Yorkers in random parts of the city and posting his work at night on a blog, everypersoninnewyork.blogspot.com.
Sometimes he notes where he'll be the next day so friends can come by. He picks a bench near a busy corner, museum or park. He's partial to fast-food (Mexican) restaurants because the workers usually leave him alone to draw as long as he wants. He's even started a drawing club that miraculously has expanded to 150 members who regularly meet up to draw at Taco Bells in cities across the country.
But mostly, Polan pursues his art alone and prefers to remain anonymous.
The project was intended as a way for him to interact with people, but one of the first things you notice on the Web site is that many of his subjects are drawn from the back, apparently intentionally as a way to avoid eye contact.
"I never want to make anyone uncomfortable or be intrusive," Polan says.
When asked why he doesn't just set up an easel like the artists who earn a living sketching tourists in Montmartre or Central Park, he shudders. "The idea of trying to do portraiture that someone is going to be happy with makes me so nervous," he says.
He rarely talks to his subjects. So if they're tourists from Iowa or businessmen from Japan, he wouldn't know. They are all part of what E.B. White, referring to Manhattan, called "the greatest human concentrate on earth."
On a wintry morning, Polan draws for more than an hour with his ankles crossed leaning against a marble wall in the majestic main concourse of Grand Central Station. Hardly anybody notices him or talks to him.
The quality of the drawings varies wildly from hasty and minimal to elaborate. Sometimes Polan heaps figures and heads on a single page but he can also take time shadowing and filling in patterns.
Polan supports himself by being remarkably entrepreneurial.
In addition to his "every person" pursuit, which has not earned him a cent, he creates artwork for a furniture chain; illustrations for various publications including Esquire magazine, The New York Times opinion page and two literary journals, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern and the Believer; and self-publishes small-edition books such as the "Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art Book" that is now sold in the museum store.
After submitting about 600 cartoons to The New Yorker, he finally sold one that was published involving two gerbils discussing their exercise regime; it continues to produce income from reprints on T-shirts and mugs.
He doesn't venture too much into New York's seedier neighborhoods or deep into the outer boroughs. Which makes you wonder how he'll ever get to every person in New York or how he'll know when he's done.
Polan doesn't seem concerned.
When you're in the city next, wander into any fast-food joint and you might find him. He's a regular at the Qdoba on 53rd Street and 3rd Avenue. Or check out the Taco Bell in Union Square. He's there every Wednesday afternoon — his eyes fixed on someone, his right hand gripping a black pen, drawing.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.