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Jay Ryan

February 8, 2012


Jay Ryan is a poster artist. He turns the gig flyer into fine art. I first encountered Jay’s work in Chris Besinger‘s living room in Minneapolis and was immediately entranced: 100 squirrels mobbing some astronauts. The astronauts are fighting off the squirrels with a plunger and a vacuum, and one of the squirrels is wearing a top hat.


I don’t remember what band the poster was advertizing (though I think, knowing Chris, and Jay’s oeuvre, it was probably Shellac), but I by god remember those squirrels.

Jay started to learn to screenprint in 1995, while working at Screwball Press under Steve Walters. Jay plays bass for the band Dianogah, and he started out printing posters for his own band, his friends’ bands, and the clubs they played at. Eventually, other print gigs started rolling in, and Jay started his screenprint workshop, The Bird Machine, in the basement of his apartment building in 1999. The Bird Machine continued to grow, becoming the hub of a community of Chicago area screenprint artists.

As the national poster art scene expanded in the 1990s, Jay was involved in the founding of Flatstock, the touring exhibition of poster artists. In 2011, in collaboration with artists Diana Sudyka and Tom Stack, Jay started Flinchy, an online store that sells unique t-shirts designed by the artists.

Jay’s work is collected in two books, Animals and Objects In and Out of Water, and 100 posters/134 squirrels. Read on, then follow the links below to check out his work. We’re certain you’ll find something that will make you smile.

1. What is your hometown?

i live in evanston, illinois, which immediately adjoins chicago on the north side. there is a scene in the movie “contagion” in which matt damon is in a food riot when the army is handing out meals – this was filmed about a mile east of my house.

2. With what fictional character do you most identify?

jesus christ.

3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.

drunk people have accused me of looking like either will farrell or john c reilly, and i can’t see how either of them applies, or how any one person could look like both of them. for general demeanor, i would guess that kumar pallana would not be inappropriate.

4. What work of art speaks to your soul?

the song “from up here” by joel r. l. phelps often makes my hair stand on end.

5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?

i have been reading the “game of thrones” books since this fall, though i just jumped to jonathan letham’s “motherless brooklyn” (basically about a detective with severe tourette’s syndrome). a few days ago i started neal stephenson’s REAMDE, which i have been unable to put down (500 pages in two days), and haruki murakami’s 1Q84 is next.

6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?

if i had to pick, i’d probably go with the album “travels with myself and another” by future of the left.

7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?

while it didn’t make me cry, specifically, someone whom i trust recommended “macgruber” to me last week. i watched about half of it, then got sad when i considered how many poor people could have been fed with the money that went into making “macgruber”.

8. Cat person or dog person?

even though we currently have two cats and no dog, i am a dog person, and have been all my life. don’t tell the cat that is sitting here watching me type this, though.

9. What is more important, truth or kindness?

kindness is more important. truth, while valuable, has no end point, and isn’t actually practical in real-world situations.

10. How do you define sin?

there is context to be considered, and grey areas, and intent, but generally you’re able to know right away if it’s actually sin. i’m not talking dogmatic “don’t wear a hat on fridays” shit, either. you see obscene greed, and you know it’s a sin.

11. How do you define virtue?

i have never considered this, specifically, and i can’t come up with a good answer before i have to feed my one-year-old daughter her dinner.

12. Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?

it’s just a small rock, laying on the forest floor, maybe near lime kiln point on washington’s san juan islands. maybe in banff national park. if someone should happen to find it and roll it over, it would read “you’ve been walking on jay ryan’s ashes for the last hundred yards. remember to wash your hands.”

Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?

daniel danger.

The Bird Machine

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 09:43

    If I have one criticism of Jay’s work it’s that there are so many excellent prints that I haven’t got enough space on my walls to hang them all up. Great article – nice to know a bit more about him and his work.

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