Farewell to Our Friend Jason Polan

Inside Criterion / Criterion Designs — Jan 27, 2020
Jason Polan and his drawing of King Kong

We’re deeply saddened today by the passing of our friend Jason Polan. 

Jason was an integral part of the Criterion family for over a decade, responsible for, among many other things, the monthly “wacky” drawings in the Criterion newsletter. He took what could have been a throwaway project and infused it with life and wit, and in the process gifted our company with a human connection to our community and a sense of play that we had previously lacked, for which we are forever grateful.

A fine artist of no small renown, Jason built communities everywhere he went. The weekly Taco Bell Drawing Club he hosted was the world’s most democratic art salon—everyone was invited, from professional artists to social-media followers to children who just happened to be at that Taco Bell and decided to pick up a crayon. If you showed up at a Taco Bell and drew something, Jason would hand you a laminated card that read “Official Member, Taco Bell Drawing Club.” Founded at the restaurant’s Union Square location in 2005, when Jason was only twenty-two, the club soon established chapters in cities across the country, and members number in the hundreds. Jason made them all feel welcome.

His approach to art was endlessly playful and generous, always intelligent but never inaccessible. He loved the idea of his work connecting with people in different contexts. He exhibited in galleries all over the world but found his Instagram feed to be an equally valid destination for his creativity. Even commercial work was personal for him—his fruitful collaborations with brands like Uniqlo and Nike never felt less than fully his own.

Jason’s work strives to express wholeness, often creating unexpectedly exhaustive catalogs of things that interested him. He famously took it upon himself to draw every piece of art in the Museum of Modern Art—twice. He once made individual drawings of each kernel in a bowl of popcorn. His long-running Every Person in New York project might be the best example. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a sincere, if quixotic, attempt to draw every person in New York City. Jason diligently observed the streets, subways, and Taco Bells of New York for over ten years, drawing any passerby who caught his eye. The tens of thousands of drawings that resulted are, collectively, a portrait of a living city as immediately appealing as it is impossibly ambitious. I can’t think of a more vibrant or intimate accounting of the world’s most thoroughly documented city. The individual drawings are whimsical and charming; the whole is a masterpiece.

Jason was a friend and a true artist, and our world is richer for his having been in it.