There are about 900,000 buildings in the five boroughs of New York City, the city Department of Buildings predicts, and a lone Brooklyn artist is attempting to draw them all.
Australian artist James Gulliver Hancock, who has lived stateside for five years, estimates he's only 1,000 illustrations deep, but the daunting scale of his task does not stop him from hitting the streets and putting the city's edifices down in his homemade sketchbooks.
He draws inspiration from the majestic beauty of the streetscape of New York, which he became acquainted with while growing up on the other side of the world, and is moved to record now that he lives here.
I grew up watching lots of New York-based movies so you see all these buildings and they were totally romanticized for me because of that, he said. So when I came here I kind of wanted to get to know them personally by standing in front of them, and rather than just be a tourist and look at them and take a photo, I thought I'd keep a diary I guess, so I started just drawing all the buildings that I saw.
On Friday morning Hancock, who lives in Williamsburg and keeps a studio in Greenpoint's Pencil Factory, took a jaunt to Manhattan's Financial District, where he met with the International Business Times to talk art and sketch the famous Indian Building at One Hanover Square in what he describes as his whimsical style.
Hancock's pieces, some of which he does on commission, others he jots down while waiting for a friend to show up at a café, do not conform to one aesthetic, medium or style - some are rough ink sketches on paper, some are cartoonish paintings on wood - but they all capture the unique essence of their subjects.
A rendition of One Central Park South, for instance, is done in stately light aquas, creams and straight black lines on a clean white background, while one of a walk-up on Hester Street is done in loose, pooled pinks and browns and surrounded by energetic doodles and splotches, suggesting the downtown feel of the building's environs. Architectural diagrams these decidedly are not.
I don't want to say it's more surface, but it's definitely the aesthetics of the buildings and how they sit ... I've probably drawn getting up to a thousand now of varying detail, some are just really rough sketches and some are detailed paintings that I've done for people, he explained. [People] say it's just so nice to have something recorded like that from a whimsical perspective. Rather than just photo-documenting things, it's a person's eye.
After graduating in 2000 with a visual communications degree from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, he opened a gallery inside a Sydney bank vault with three friends.
After curating, nurturing and creating new art there for five years, he published a hardcover book and moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for about three years before finding his way to Brooklyn, where he currently lives with his wife.
Hancock, who also works as a commercial illustrator and on other obsessions, posts the illustrations to his blog, which has become a permanent record of his daily travels throughout New York City, as well as a sales platform, artistic community and resource to which he can turn and remember all the places he's been. And soon his illustrations will be compiled in a book he is currently working on with a major publisher.
His process is unique, and varies based on what medium he will be working with, the amount of time he has, and the type of building he is illustrating.
But the basic process is as follows: he travels to a site, does a rough sketch on paper and usually takes a photograph, then returns to his studio and either does the piece over again in paint and ink on wood, or finesses the sketch by filling in the details from the photo and Google Maps.
There are no rules when attempting to draw every building in New York, so Hancock is just tackling it as best he can, diving in head-first and putting it all down on paper.
I like the idea that it's open-ended, you know, it could continue after I die, you know it just could go on forever, he said. And someone was telling me that if you wanted to eat at a different restaurant every day in New York you could do it forever because it's cycling so much. It's probably the same with the buildings. Some buildings go down, some go up. Endlessly entertaining.
For more information about Hancock, visit jamesgulliverhancock.com