In Memory of
Jason Polan

Photography by Omi Tanaka (Jason), Yoshio Kato (stills) Text by UNIQLO
Special thanks to the Polan family, Michael Worful and Paola Antonelli

This past January, Jason Polan passed away at the young age of thirty-seven.
It’s still hard to believe. His memory and his drawings will live on inside our hearts.

LifeWear magazine web exclusive contents

A Letter from Jason Polan’s Mother

Jason Polan
Artist
Born in 1982 in Michigan, U.S. Started drawing part of every day from a young age, and after moving to New York ventured out daily, carrying sketchbook and pen, to draw whoever he happened to see. This led to Every Person in New York, an unprecedented project in which he attempted to draw every New Yorker. Jason collaborated with UT on three occasions. In January 2020, he died from cancer.

Jason’s father, Jesse Polan, photographed this past February at a memorial service for Jason at the MoMA. Pictured wearing a favorite T-shirt of a hamburger, drawn by Jason.

“I know an interesting illustrator in New York. If you give him a place and time and wait there for fifteen minutes, pretty soon you’ll find a drawing of yourself up on his blog. We got this message about ten years ago, and this mysterious illustrator was none other than Jason Polan. Later on, we were lucky enough to work with Jason on a number of occasions, meeting for the last time in 2019, at the UNIQLO offices in Tokyo. Enjoying a lunch of hamburgers and Coke, we chatted about all kinds of things. He talked about how much he had enjoyed collaborating with Marvel earlier that year for UT and how the Detroit Tigers were doing (since he was wearing a Tigers hat), and showed us the sketch of the Tokyo taxi driver he had made on the way over. He also said that he would gather all the sketches that he made of people in his travels around the world for another collection with UT.

Jason Polan was born in 1982 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a double major in anthropology and art and design, he moved to New York. His drawings were initially released via his blog, Every Person in New York, and published in book form in 2015, at which point he had drawn 30,000 New Yorkers. His parents were kind enough to share some thoughts. “For Jason, drawing was inseparable from life. It was how he expressed himself, how he communicated, a part of being alive, just like his heartbeat. Jason made drawing look as natural as breathing, but each sketch contained a message. To him, everybody was important-the man sleeping on the subway, the woman holding her umbrella over her child’s head, the executive rushing to a meeting, the little kid dressed in a Halloween costume. He wanted everyone across the world to feel that every person had value.”

When Jason went to New York, his plan was to find a job at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). He didn’t care if this meant mopping floors, or being a security guard, or collecting tickets, as long as he was near the art. Over time, he sketched every piece of artwork on display in the museum. Meanwhile, at a Taco Bell near Union Square, he formed the “Taco Bell Drawing Club.” Even once he had become a popular illustrator, serialized in the New York Times, he kept on drawing at the Taco Bell with his like-minded friends.

For these and many other reasons, we’ll never forget the artist Jason Polan.

Jason’s father, Jesse Polan, photographed this past February at a memorial service for Jason at the MoMA. Pictured wearing a favorite T-shirt of a hamburger, drawn by Jason.

Short Essay from
Michael and Paola

All Jason ever wanted to be was a good person

Fifteen years ago my friend Mollie introduced me to Jason because she thought we would get along. She was right. Jason and I quickly bonded over artists we looked up to, our love of mail, snacks we liked, and how close we were with our moms.

The first time I visited him in New York Jason met me at the airport. When I told my other friends in New York about this they said a gesture like that was simply unheard of. But not for Jason, he was so generous and thoughtful. Every visit after that he let me sleep on his couch.

All Jason ever wanted to be was a good person, and to make things that brought people joy and made them look at the world differently. Jason inspired me so much, with his art, the way he looked at life, and the way he treated people. Everything I make is in his honor, and every time I do something nice for someone I think of him.

Michael Worful
Artist
Born in 1979 in Missouri. Jason’s close friend. He has made his life’s work photographing and drawing the people who mean the most to him.

Just three or four lines that managed to capture all of me.

Jason Polan was a quintessential New Yorker. What distinguishes New Yorkers from other tribes is how much they are intrigued by other New Yorkers––or, frankly, by any other human smart and lucky enough to happen to be in New York. One day, early on in my life in the city, Jason and I were introduced and by the time I let go of his handshake, he presented me with a sketch, just three or four lines that managed to capture all of me. I was impressed, flattered, and amused, a reaction Jason must have seen hundreds of times, but which every time still filled him with joy. He spent a lot of time at the MoMA because he liked to capture his prey while immersed in the contemplation of art, but he equally appreciated subway platforms and fast-food restaurants. He had a mission: to draw every person in the city. He got only to 30,000 but all eight and a half million of us will miss him dearly.

Paola Antonelli
Senior Curator MoMA
Born in 1963 in Italy. Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture & Design and Director of R&D at the MoMA in New York City.

Jason’s Memories with UNIQLO

Past collaborations with UT.
Left: shirts depicting popular characters as drawn by Jason, a Marvel fan (2019). Right: cute children’s shirts illustrated with giraffes and elephants (2017).
In 2017, Jason invited children from New York City homeless shelters to join him at the UNIQLO 5th Avenue Store and draw pictures. “I want these kids to experience how much fun drawing can be, and also, selfishly, I want to draw with them!” said Jason.
Talk event with illustrator Yu Nagaba at UNIQLO Ginza, during a visit to Japan. Overbrimming with mutual respect, the two were kindred spirits.
©Elizabeth

This year on February 28th, a memorial event advertised as the “World’s Biggest Drawing Club” was jointly hosted by the MoMA and the UNIQLO 5th Avenue Store. Over 5,000 people gathered to honor Jason.

Every Person in New York

Jason’s first monograph, released in 2015. Leafing through the sketches, which beautifully demonstrate his characteristic style, is enough to brighten your day. Copies can be purchased via the publisher’s website:www.chroniclebooks.com

Drawing Club
at UNIQLO TOKYO

A special exhibit on Jason is now on permanent display on the fourth floor of UNIQLO TOKYO, which opened in Ginza in June 2020. UNIQLO pledges to share the lessons Jason taught us about drawing whatever you feel, and how much fun it is to bring people together.

Store Information

UNIQLO TOKYO

Designed around the concept of “Sending Beauty to the World,” this global flagship store is now the largest UNIQLO in Japan. Herzog & de Meuron, a Pritzker Prize-winning architectural firm in Switzerland, was invited to design the interior, which is not to be missed.

MARRONNIER GATE GINZA2 1-4F, 3-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
OPEN 11:00-21:00 Daily

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