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Drawing All the Buildings in New York

by Kyle Chayka on February 21, 2011

James Gulliver Hancock's “Orchard Street” (detail) (all images from allthebuildingsinnewyork.blogspot.com)

Your day in poetically impossible tasks: New York-based illustrator James Gulliver Hancock pulls a Jason Polan in a new drawing project attempting to draw every building in our fair city, rendering townhouses and skyscrapers alike in day-glo colors and goofy, meandering lines equal parts charming and exact.

Hancock's “Five Leaves”

Through All the Buildings in New York, Hancock also takes wide detours through our home borough of Brooklyn and manages to catch a few buildings that we’re very familiar with– check out the artist’s version of Hyperallergic favorite Fives Leaves restaurant in Greenpoint. Hancock takes care to document the rough spots as well as the architectural high points of our surroundings, observing the poetry of silhouetted fire escapes as easily as the wall supports of a collapsing structure on Broadway and Reade.

It has to be said that Hancock’s blog is pretty much exactly like fellow illustrator and artist Jason Polan’s Every Person in New York, and if the project weren’t charming in itself it would feel like a ripoff. But Hancock gives us a handmade typology of buildings just as Polan gives us a cross-section of New York’s human population, the two coming together to form a bigger portrait of the city. It’s fun to notice famous people in Polan’s drawings, and it’s fun to recognize familiar buildings in Hancock’s. Both feel like artists sharing their view of the world and showing it in public, which is always a welcome and generous gesture.

Hancock does well in mixing up his medium, using blocks of solid color and paper cut-outs to provide alternative views of the architecture he covers. Like a photojournalist, it’s the artist’s eye that makes the difference between a mundane building and a striking drawing. He’s not afraid to get critical either: one drawing pits “decorative buildings” against “boring buildings” in a slap fight. Slightly reminiscent of a Hark a Vagrant comic, it’s pretty hilarious. We could all use more architectural cat fights in our lives.

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