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Poster Boy: Jay Ryan’s Rock World

Chicago-based graphic designer Jay Ryan got into the poster-making business when Highdive talent buyer, Ward Gollings approached the graphic design company Ryan worked for to craft a poster for an upcoming show at Champaign’s Blind Pig in the mid-90s. Ryan’s boss enlisted him to illustrate the Supersuckers and Rocket from the Crypt poster design.

Now, the popular graphic designer can’t keep his sought after posters on the walls of record stores and rock clubs for long before fans pull them off for the their own Jay Ryan collections.

With a long client list that includes The Shins, The Decemberists, Lewis Black, and Pitchfork Music Festival, and a book of his 100 favorite posters he designed through 2005 published by Punk Planet Books, Ryan returns to University of Illinois, where he received a BFA in 1994, to hold an exhibition of his work at Krannert Art Museum.

Ryan’s exhibit, dubbed Jay Ryan: Animals and Objects In and Out of Water opens tonight with a reception from 6–8 p.m. featuring music from locals Shipwreck, The Beauty Shop, and Tall Tale.

“[The exhibit is] a full range of what I do as far as print work,” Ryan says. “It’s a lot of band posters, and a pretty good number of art prints, some done for specific reasons and others that I just thought would be fun or funny.”

The display, showcasing approximately 75 posters from his collection is a continuation of Ryan’s favorite prints since his book, 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels, a Decade of Hot Dogs, Large Mammals, and Independent Rock: The Handcrafted Art of Jay Ryan. He chose his preferred works from 2007 and 2006 with a handful from 2005 including subjects such as a Nada Surf show at Schuba’s, dolphins playing in bumper cars, an Andrew Bird show at Logan Square Auditorium, and cats watching a volcano erupt.

Although Ryan has created posters for many of his favorite bands from around the world, he still has his fan moments.

“Most of them are, actually,” Ryan says. “Most of the time I get to do posters – at this point I’m fortunate to be picky – I usually only take jobs that I’m excited about.”

Ryan is currently working on some big projects such as two shirt collections for clothing line, Patagonia and a series of prints for the BBC, along with jobs from his music clientele, accomplishments that continue to amaze Ryan, who operates his own press called The Bird Machine.

Working with big names, however, such as The Decemberists and Andrew Bird don’t make the Chicago designer jaded. He still gets excited about working with bands, such as the Chicago Touch and Go artists, Shellac, a group he considers to be one of his “favorite bands of all-time.”

Part of Ryan’s popularity can be attributed to the subtlety of his rock poster designs – in a world of in-your-face graphics and garish fonts – Ryan’s penchant for animals in odd situations and soft hand-written headlines stands out. But, Ryan says if individuals saw the work he was doing in his painting classes at 20 years old, they’d see a similar style to what he’s using now at 35.

“I guess it sounds cliché, but I’m really making these as a personal act of wanting to be involved in the music,” Ryan says.

Jay Ryan: Animals and Objects In and Out of Water opens tonight and closes on May 11.

Krannert Art Museum is located at 500 E. Peabody Dr. in Champaign.

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