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8 Million Portraits In The Naked City

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8 Million Portraits In The Naked City

Arts & Life

8 Million Portraits In The Naked City

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

They say there are eight million stories in New York City, and artist Jason Polan wants to illustrate each one. From park benches to movie theaters at Taco Bell and on the sixth train, you can find Polan sitting with his sketchbook; his goal, to draw a portrait of every single person in New York.

One of our producers, Petra Mayer, hung out with the artist to find out how he does it.

PETRA MAYER: We're sitting in Madison Square Park behind the Shake Shack. There must be hundreds of people out here enjoying a blooming spring day. Jason Polan has his eye on his next subject.

Mr. JASON POLAN (Artist): You know, I think I'm going to draw these people that are sitting under that, looks like a dogwood tree, a man with a big collar to his coat and the woman with the big boots.

MAYER: Coat Man and is companion are actually about 60 feet away. They'll never know they're being immortalized on paper, unless they happen to take a look at the blog where Polan is posting his drawings.

Mr. POLAN: The drawings end up being, I think just better if it's more natural, like if somebody's leaning a particular way and they don't notice that I'm drawing them. And I also like the fact that it can be a more exciting thing for the person to be looking at the blog that night and then see themselves on it.

MAYER: Can we look through your sketchbook?

Mr. POLAN: There's some people at the pet store looking at cats. These were some people that sent me an email to tell me to go draw them where they would be and then I went and I drew them.

MAYER: Yes, you can make an appointment to have your portrait done, takes about two minutes. And Polan asks only that you spend those two minutes standing somewhere noticeable. And don't expect to see him lurking in the crowd.

Mr. POLAN: That's them. And I drew them without them noticing. So I put them on the blog that night.

MAYER: This isn't Polan's first tilt at the window. One of his first big drawing projects was a catalogue of every single item in the Museum of Modern Art.

Mr. POLAN: And then I did a little project called "An Entire Bag of Popcorn" where I drew every piece of popcorn and kernel, every little kernel in a bag of popcorn. So it went from something pretty big to something pretty little. And then, after that, I've done a couple of other - like, every person in the phone book because there was a town that had a very small population.

MAYER: So here's the burning question. It's relatively easy, if you're talking about a bag of popcorn, to make sure you're not drawing the same half-popped kernel more than once. But on the streets of New York...

Mr. POLAN: I found that I have been drawing the same people over and over again. I'll catch - sometimes I'll catch myself where I'll think, that person -oh, I have drawn that person before. And I assume there are people that I've drawn several times, but I think that's okay.

MAYER: Now, normally, when I'm working on a story like this about an artist or a singer or an author, I'll ask them what they're doing next. But with Jason Polan, it's kind of a foregone conclusion.

Mr. POLAN: Well, I think I'll be working on it for the rest of my life. And I don't know if I'm going to finish, but I'm kind of willing to just kind of work on it forever.

MAYER: And as of right now, two years into the project, he's got about 10,000 portraits done.

Petra Mayer, NPR News.

RAZ: And you can see some of Jason Polan's sketches and find out whether you're in one of them at our Website,

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