Jason Daniel Polan’s drawing of people passing through Grand Central Station on May 21, 2009 for his “Every Person in New York” project. Photo: Jason Daniel Polan.

Jason Polan (1982–2020)

Jason Daniel Polan, a prolific illustrator whose projects ranged from trying to draw every piece of art on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), twice, to his series “Things I Saw,” which was featured on the New York Times’ Opinionator blog, died of cancer on Monday, January 27. The artist was thirty-seven years old.

Polan was known for his quick, on-the-fly drawing style and his Taco Bell Drawing Club, which he began hosting at the fast-food giant’s Union Square location in 2005. The group held weekly meetings and earned a reputation for welcoming anyone, including professional artists and children, who happened to be eating at Taco Bell that day and has since grown to have numerous chapters nationwide. Those who joined would receive an “Official Member, Taco Bell Drawing Club” laminated card.

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on July 17, 1982, Polan was raised in Franklin by his parents, Jesse and Jane Polan, who worked in real estate development and as a community volunteer, respectively. Polan studied anthropology and art and design at the University of Michigan, earning degrees in both in 2004. Upon graduating, Polan relocated to New York City and went on to have his first solo show at Nicholas Robinson Gallery in Chelsea in 2011 and completed commissions for companies such as Nike, Levi’s, and Warby Parker. 

One of Polan’s most ambitious undertakings was his attempt to draw every person in New York City. The project resulted in tens of thousands of drawings, which he sketched as he observed people going to and from their destinations and posted to his blog and on Instagram. “I will be drawing people everyday and posting as frequently as I can, Polan wrote on the project’s website. It is possible that I will draw you without you knowing it.” Thirty thousand of his drawings were published in a book in 2015, which he claimed was only volume one. 

“I can’t think of a more vibrant or intimate accounting of the world’s most thoroughly documented city,” wrote Eric Skillman of Criterion. “The individual drawings are whimsical and charming; the whole is a masterpiece.”