“It is the other ordinary buildings, spilling with hectic daily life, that hold real New York life and passion.”
New York City has served as a muse to such literary greats as Gay Talese, Anaïs Nin, E. B. White, and Jan Morris. It has been the subject of cartographic love letters and famous diaries. And yet the essence of its spirit remains ever-elusive.
A couple of years ago, Australian illustrator James Gulliver Hancock moved to New York City and, in an effort to “own” his new home in his unique way, set out to draw every single building in town. Now, he is releasing the best of these drawings in All the Buildings in New York (That I’ve Drawn So Far) (public library) — a charmingly illustrated tour of Gotham’s cityscape and architecture, from icons to oddities, spanning the entire urban spectrum in between.
Hancock writes in the introduction:
Newcomers to New York City really want to own it, to make up for all the years they’ve missed living here. My way of doing that was drawing my surroundings, so I could become more involved and connected with my new home. Many visitors come to this city and fall in love with it. What I fell in love with was the density of experience here. This is a chaotic, awkward, historic, and organic city organized on a grid. Although perfect buildings, like the Chrysler Building or the Statue of Liberty, symbolize ‘I Love NY,’ it is the other ordinary buildings, spilling with hectic daily life, that hold real New York life and passion. The fact that they stand right next to the icons is what makes this city special.
To Hancock, the project became a sensemaking mechanism for his experience of this all-consuming city:
This collection and obsession have become an almost ritualistic undertaking, a therapy of sorts, helping me to organize the overwhelming infinity and chaos of New York into something I can know and understand. Sometimes it appears to me like the game Tetris; the buildings begin to fit together neatly and become familiar. At other times it seems like an unquantifiable mess. This diarylike process helps me to deal with the waxing and waning, from complete chaos to intimate detail that is New York, making it personal, one object at a time.