Drawing every inhabitant of New York City is an impossible task, but illustrator Jason Polan is still sketching his way through largest metropolis in the United States, illustrating the city’s eight million denizens a few scribbles at a time. He’ll probably never get there, but at least his project will forever be immortalized in a book, which will be the first in an eventually sprawling series.
Every Person in New York, Vol, 1 is perhaps the only act of pure voyeurism that could also be seen as a study in demographics: Polan admits to spying on people as they sit on park benches, or when they walk their dogs or sit munching on nachos at Taco Bell. Many of the people included in his work had no idea they were being illustrated.
Polan is no stranger to cataloguing seemingly uncountable objects, as he once drew every work in the MoMA, twice. The nature of his project, which mirrors the grand scheme Sufjan Steven’s once had to record an album in honor of each state in the US, is mathematically impossible, if not admirable for its quirkiness and variety.
Polan’s drawings sometimes veer down a more abstract path, but they nonetheless convey the broad spectrum of life we’re confronted with here in New York. Some of his illustrations are minimalist while others are heavily intricate and more detailed. While most of the figures he draws are the city’s everyday people, a handful of them are notables like Louis CK and Hannibal Buress.
Below, we ask the artist a little bit about the ideation and process behind the book, and also showcase some select illustrations featured in Every Person in New York, Vol 1.