Jay Ryan’s Animals And Objects In And Out Of Water

[from The A.V. Club Chicago / December 16, 2009]

Chicago-based print artist and poster celebrity Jay Ryan’s second book, Animals And Objects In And Out Of Water (taken from the title of his 2007 showcase at the I Space Gallery), just released by Akashic Books, compiles personally chosen highlights of his past four years of work with brief write-ups accompanying each, ranging from the highly personal to the insanely literal. In between, Ryan’s book also raises an important question: What exactly is a book of poster prints? And what exactly does one do with such a thing? The A.V. Club found three ways to interpret Animals.

I. Animals And Objects In And Out Of Water as a book of art 

Animals succeeds as coffee-table fodder, as Ryan’s signature renditions of aloof bunny rabbits (“Flatstock 10”), unspecified tree creatures (“Intercontinental”), and humans in increasingly tense motion (“The Frames,” “Illinois State Cyclocross Championship 2007”) provide a constant stream of visually appealing eye candy and subtly complex visual spectacle. Even the sketch details, such as the close-up of “Shellac, with Dianogah,” show a certain picture-within-a-picture approach whose intention is known only by the artist himself but easily asserts the depth of his work. 

Grade: A 

II. Animals And Objects In And Out Of Water as a book about art 

Although the subjects of the prints in Animals might read like a how-to guide on mid-’00s hipsterdom, Ryan shows a keen eye for matching his pieces to the persona of his subjects, be it the puppy and Star Wars figurines of his Patton Oswalt posters, the skateboarding skeleton of Alkaline Trio, or even the dismayed scowl gracing Ryan’s Lewis Black portrait. Ryan’s personal anecdotes go a step further to shorten the distance between artist and audience—seriously, the guy loves his cat—but much of the art goes mostly unexplained, leaving readers to guess on technique and motivation.

Grade: B- 

III. Animals And Objects In And Out Of Water as an art book 

Joe Meno‘s hilarious afterword aside (sample passage: “Ryan attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana from 1990-1994, where he majored in Painting and minored in Impossible Physical Gestures.”), Animals avoids too much behind-the-curtain discussion of Ryan’s methods, save for the occasional inclusion of rough pencil sketches of finished pieces (“Hum New Year’s Day 2009,” “1993 Revisited”) or the architectural ruler-guides (“My Morning Jacket (Minneapolis)”). Ditto Andrew Bird‘s foreword, which glosses over the larger context of Ryan’s work in favor of a humorous (yet still revealing) take on one of the artist’s more representative pieces. In a way, this fits Animals better than any kind of literal analysis ever could: Ryan’s work, like any visual artist’s, is meant to be seen, not to be idly discussed.

Grade: C+