homeaboutarchivepodcastnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivepodcastmembership!
aboutarchivemembers!

Remembering Jason Polan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2020

Jason Polan

New York artist Jason Polan has passed away at the age of 37. The cause was colon cancer. From the NY Times obituary:

Mr. Polan’s signature project for the last decade or so was “Every Person in New York,” in which he set himself the admittedly impossible task of drawing everyone in New York City. He kept a robust blog of those sketches, and by the time he published a book of that title in 2015 — which he envisioned as Vol. 1 — he had drawn more than 30,000 people.

These were not sit-for-a-portrait-style drawings. They were quick sketches of people who often didn’t know they were being sketched, done on the fly, with delightfully unfinished results, as Mr. Polan wrote in the book’s introduction.

“If they are moving fast, the drawing is often very simple,” he wrote. “If they move or get up from a pose, I cannot cheat at all by filling in a leg that had been folded or an arm pointing. This is why some of the people in the drawings might have an extra arm or leg — it had moved while I was drawing them. I think, hope, this makes the drawings better.”

See also obituaries and remembrances from Gothamist and Ghostly. You can check out his blog and buy some of his work from 20x200.

I never met Polan in person — we corresponded via email occasionally, were admirers of each other’s work (I have several of his drawings), and I linked to his stuff sometimes (not enough) — but many of my friends knew him well and are reeling. There was a gentleness, a loving attention, that really came through in his work and in talking with the folks who knew him, that’s the way he was in person too. A kind soul, gone too soon. Rest in peace, Jason.

Update: Polan’s friend and long-time collaborator Jen Bekman posted a lovely tribute to him on 20x200.

Jason noticed. This was his thing. The effortlessness with which he could hone in on a person in the endless stream of the city, pick out just one or two details that made them unique and make art of them. People often asked me if I thought he had a photographic memory, and yea, maybe he did, but it wasn’t really the source of his genius. The source, I think, was his bottomless empathy and interest.