NO PIECE OF PAPER had ever looked so blank. Or so threatening. But the only way to get a Taco Bell Drawing Club membership card — and you want a Taco Bell Drawing Club membership card — is to grab the pen being offered and start drawing a line on the blank before you.
It doesn’t matter if the line wobbles, weaves and is the start of something horrific. With that first line, artist Jason Polan starts filling your name in on that card.
You’re part of his world. And it’s a good place to be.
An artist who has had success on both the art-for-art’s-sake and the commercial sides — his illustrations are in demand from clients such as The New York Times Magazine, Interview, Esquire, Partners & Spade design firm and West Elm furniture — Polan has every right to be a bit of a NYC art-scene snob. But he’s no nose-in-the-air, keeps-you-at- arm’s-length artist. He’s kind, accessible and — hold your beret — he wants people to enjoy his art. He wants you to be happy. That’s why he creates projects that seek to include as many people as possible. The prime example: his “Every Person in New York” project.
In early 2008, Polan embarked on a project that would allow him to “interact with a lot of people. Something they could take part in if they wanted,” he says. He started drawing people around NYC’s five boroughs. Some of the drawings are quick sketches, just a few lines. Others are more detailed. He draws the famous — Anderson Cooper, Donald Trump, Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig — and the not- famous — a dad and his two kids on the Third Avenue bus, people on the 7 train and a baby wearing pajamas with giraffes on them. He draws individuals. He draws crowds.
So far, he has drawn more than 9,000 people for the project. With New York boasting a population of 8.3 million and with its 47 million visitors per year, Polan’s project is, clearly, “a counting grains of sand on the beach” sort of thing. But he doesn’t mind. He’s willing to work on it for the rest of his life.
Polan posts many of his drawings on his Every Person in New York blog (www.everypersoninnewyork.blogspot.com). And, every Tuesday, the popular things-to-do-around-the-city site Manhattan User’s Guide — known to locals as MUG (www.manhattanusersguide.com) — posts one Every Person piece.
MUG editor Charlie Suisman has been an Every Person fan since his fi rst sighting of the project two years ago. “It’s the whole impossibility of the project,” he says. “Even if it can’t be done. It’s clever and naive. It seems so suited to New York. New York’s personality is the pursuit of endless possibility.”
The drawings also flatten NYC’s famous hierarchy of fame. They make that everyday guy riding the V train just as important as that celeb walking down a red carpet. “The part of it that’s so awesome is that he’s saying to every individual person that they matter,” says Jen Bekman, a gallery owner who has shown Polan’s work and is the founder of 20x200/A Jen Bekman Project. “It is a hopeful, optimistic, well-intentioned thing.”