One Jay Ryan poster is worth a thousand essays on indie rock. The Chicago-based screenprinter defines the music of the Decemberists, Modest Mouse and the Shins with acrylic drawings of bears, weasels, bunnies and Bigfoot pushing a lawnmower. (Shellac frontman Steve Albini has termed Ryan’s critters “undifferentiated mammals.”) This is the music of a generation that prefers Xanax to cocaine, and these are their show announcements: “What some other people may try and do with skulls and hot rods,” Ryan says, “I would try and see if I could do with raccoons and toasters.” At this he is successful, beguiling and proficient. With the release of his second collection of prints, Animals and Objects In and Out of Water, and appearance at the Goodfoot this Friday, Ryan paused from a night with his wife by the fireplace to discuss three of his most adorable images.
Jeff Tweedy, April 12, 2008 (Tweedy shown playing guitar for a rookery of penguins):
“It’s for this annual event where Tweedy basically auctions off a private living-room concert, with money going to a charity, Letters to Santa. So there’s a group of very nice Wilco nerds who have banded together and are pretty much guaranteed to put in the maximum bid every year, so it’s a recurring theme that he knows, when he auctions off this concert, he’s going to this particular young lady’s condo. We went one year and it was very nice people, but it was a very intimate and strange thing going on between these fans and Jeff, sitting opposite one another in the rec room. That’s sort of a depiction of the experience.”
The Decemberists, Feb. 13, 2007 (a city of houses perched on the walls of a fjord):
“It’s based on a song from the Crane Wife album, ‘Sons & Daughters.’ Really like some Decemberists, and really like that song especially. Not knowing specifically what that song is about, it’s sort of what I imagine Colin [Meloy] is singing about: ‘When we arrive/ Sons and daughters/ We’ll make our homes on the water/ We’ll build our walls aluminum/ We’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon.’ I’m picturing this fishing village that’s all perched on these cliffs, like they’re cliff swallows.”
Built to Spill, Sept. 15-16, 2006 (bear driving a riding lawnmower through a field of traffic cones):
“[Small animals] are a good vehicle for getting emotions across without the baggage of human specificity. For example, if I wanted to have the action in a poster be that the character is sitting behind the wheel of a car, and witnessing something or experiencing something, it’s often more interesting for that character behind the wheel to be a bear or a cat or a lemur or something. Because then you as a viewer don’t look at the character and be like, ‘Oh, that person’s wearing baggy pants,’ or ‘That person has long hair, so he must be a hippie.’ Who doesn’t like bears? When they’re behaving well, I think everybody likes them. As long as they’re not, you know, tangible.”
Death Cab for Cutie, March 2, 2006 (housecats watching volcanic eruption):
“Listening to Death Cab, they often have an impending-relationship-doom feeling in a lot of their songs—sort of knowing that the end is coming. That’s kind of a stretch, visually. Mostly I thought it would be funny to have the cats watching the end of the world. But there’s a thread there.”
GO: Jay Ryan will appear at the Goodfoot Gallery, 2845 SE Stark St., 239-9292. 6 pm Friday, Dec. 11. Free.