Animals and Objects In and Out of Water
by Jay Ryan

Reviewed by SD Allison


Published by Akashic Books, 2009   |   150 pages

For me to say I know Jay Ryan’s work is like saying I know Beethoven because the lady in the elevator had a Fur Elise ringtone. I‘ve seen a few posters, but I’ve never seen it like this, as itself, wrapped in its own packaging, running wild with 120 friends through the land it calls home. Then again, Ryan’s work is so unusual it may not call anywhere home. Perhaps this is why it’s running (with socks on and scissors in hand, as Andrew Bird points out in the foreword).

Animals and Objects In and Out of Water is Jay Ryan’s second book. I never picked up his first collection of work, 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels…but it just made my Christmas list.

What sort of dream are we having when we slip into the pages of Jay Ryan’s world? What was the bear doing before it decided to tear around on the lawnmower? Is the shark being used as a rifle really a rifle, or is it just playing a dirty trick on the gorilla?

Don’t get me wrong. Ryan’s work is not ridiculous. It is set in a land of whimsy, but it’s smart. A great number of his creatures read, write, and play a musical instrument.

Jay Ryan is aware of the oddities that exist in his work. The descriptions that accompany the prints are proof of that. He doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously either, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. While Ryan’s work is without a doubt entertaining and full of life, it has weight. Some of his works are rich with subtext. Some have overtures that spark discussion.

Will a larger guitar really be enough to get the penguins to shut up and pay attention to Jeff Tweedy? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

In this collection are posters Ryan has done for Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie, and Modest Mouse to name a few. While bands don’t make up the entirety of the work in this collection, for the desperately hip among us there’s plenty of concert posters to send us searching for our ear plugs. For those who know anything about screen printing, it’s quite clear that Ryan is a master of his craft. I don’t know anything about screen printing, but I asked my wife. She smiles a lot and has an art degree.

If anything other than giggles can be taken from Joe Meno’s absurdist biography of Ryan (assuming its absurdist, and hoping that it is) that closes out the book, it could be that Jay Ryan is a softy. He is passionate. He cares about his little creatures. He cares about his art. He likes bicycles, and he is very fond of his greyhound.

SD Allison was born in Nebraska. He is the descendant of farmers, teachers, and men with bad lungs. He is the father of a little boy with autism. His first novel, Beneath the Plastic was published in 2006. Hie is currently a senior copy writer for a marketing/ad agency.

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