Since He Was A Teenager, When He First Visited New York City, Omar Aguirre Has Dreamed Of Making It His Permanent Home.
It’s not like anything else he’s experienced in Mexico, he said. After coming here, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is, in fact, nothing else quite like it anyplace else in the world. Yet it stayed with me, like I had to see New York sooner or later.
Aguirre, who is now 34 years old, lives on the East Side and works as an eyewear designer for Nike and Adidas. This year, though, he began a side gig on Instagram called Manhatoon, about which he draws cartoons of well-known New York City establishments and attractions like Ray’s Candy Store, Chinatown Fair, and Balloon Saloon and gives them motion and sound effects.
He’s one of many Urban Dwellers who have taken it upon themselves to record and preserve their rapidly evolving city by means of do-it-yourself initiatives widely shared on social media, especially Instagram.
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Aguirre says his project is a way to honor life in his adopted city and an attempt to support places struggling with losses caused by the pandemic.
It is an offshoot of an app he is still starting to work on, meant to encourage individuals to share their favourite restaurants and drinking establishments with friends and acquaintances.
He explained, “I was interested in presenting my favourite spots in a manner that was entertaining and pepper it with an additional bit more notes or tales regarding life in the city,” with the expectation that this would increase the establishment’s revenue.
Aguirre has gained a following on Reddit and Instagram after only a month of posting illustrations to Manhatoon. The proprietors of several shops have taken notice of him and often re-post his creations.
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Three years of his life were spent subsisting on Ivan Ramen, and he found it “very lovely” when “Ivan himself sent me an DM praising me for the cartoon.”
Aguirre is now part of a large community of photographers, cartoonists, tinkerers, and artists working on conceptually comparable visual projects.
If you compare him to someone like John Donohue, whose “All The Restaurant In New York” series has been going strong since 2017, you’ll see that he’s a relative newcomer. He zeroed in on eating establishments because he knew there would be an endless supply of material there.
Donohue speculates that residents feel motivated to record the city because doing so allows them to have a personal connection to its ongoing history.
“The city is the physical manifestation of the human mind,” he stated. This “collective imagination” is the result of many people’s efforts over many years.
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Joel Holland, inspired by Aguirre’s Manhatoon, began depicting early stages of the pandemic in New York City’s retail establishments.
Holland, a talented illustrator and handwritten letterer in his forties, and his family settled in the Gramercy neighbourhood in March of 2020.
As keeping of their routine during the pandemic, he would bring his daughters downtown for occasional outings that spring. Since they were restricted from entering many shops, he began sketching the ones they frequented most, beginning with Economical Candy.
These works are odes to a city which is just now beginning to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.
When they succeed, it helps stabilise a cityscape where rising rents threaten the survival of established enterprises that are highly valued by their communities.
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I sketched that and I was like, “Hey, kids, we can’t go in there, but isn’t this cool?” What Holland uttered. I shared it on Instagram and quickly became hooked.
Almost 700 drawings later, his book “NYC Storefronts: Drawings of the Big Intel’s Best-Loved Places” was published last fall, featuring roughly 225 of his drawings. The stores in that book were all located in Manhattan, but he is currently writing a sequel about retailers in Brooklyn.
Although Holland was born in Pennsylvania, he has called New York City home since 1998. Because he is not a native Ny Yorker, he believes that this is one of the primary motivations for his desire to record the city’s history.
He remarked, “I’m trying to enjoy this whole thing to the to the greatest extent possible; I’m really thrilled to keep living here, that I may remain here.
It appears that in New York you have to constantly hustle, to literally crawl along the pavements, just to make ends meet. One of the things that motivates me to keep going is witnessing similar efforts by other companies and individuals.
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Nicolas Heller, also known as New York Nico, has a great understanding of how our metropolitan environment shapes who we are. He is a walking encyclopaedia of weird New Yorkers and a saint to their cause.