Rock-band bassist and silkscreen artist Jay Ryan speaks to us about his work, interests and love for labor intensive processes. While most poster makers enter the craft by way of graphic design or digital artistry, Jay’s education consisted of a degree in painting from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, ditching fine art painting for the more exciting world of poster making. He prefers creating his posters by hand, avoiding Photoshop at all costs…including many cuts from his treasured Exacto knife. Also, unlike most rock bands (with the exception of the Rolling Stones and U2) Jay’s band, Dianogah, has played together in the Chicago area and internationally for about 15 years.
F: You have a degree in Painting, why work on posters and not stick to painting or try out photography?
J: One of problems I had in school was finding justification for doing what I was doing. I wanted to do something where I could have fun with it visually and at the same time serve a purpose. To me, images alone seemed pointless, so I was always attaching text and creating a message with my work. Then, the other half of my life was spent going to rock concerts or band practice – so making posters for bands seemed like a great way to combine these interests!
F: So are your posters as easy as hitting the print button?
J: I make them all by hand with no computers. They are hand drawn, and all layers of film are cut by hand using Exacto knives. If we are making 300 posters, we go through 300 pieces of paper, put one color down, change screens and put another color down on all 300 pieces. We’ll usually end up making posters that include 5-7 colors so it is quite labor intensive.
F: Do you feel threatened by the digital world, where almost everything can be created through Adobe software and a printer?
J: I am encouraged by it because a lot of my peers in the poster community design all their work digitally but still go through the physical process of making these screen prints. In general, I believe there will always be those who appreciate handmade work. For example, there are still people who buy LPs and books despite itunes and the Kindle. Maybe my posters won’t be in the hands of a hundred million people, but I’ll still have people who appreciate and care about the art and amount of work put into the piece.
F: Why is it called the bird machine?
J: I was going to call it IBM, but that was taken, so we settled on The Bird Machine. There’s no real good reason, but I should really make one up. A lot of people ask me this question. A few probable reasons are that my wife is an ornithologist, and when I started the company I read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
F: You are in a band, Dianogah that recently performed in the UK, at the ATP Festival, what was it like?
J: Traveling anywhere with this band is a lot of fun. I’ve been in this band longer than I’ve been making posters. Anytime we get together and travel and play is a blast. We got to see some good bands, stay up late, and act like we were 23, even though we are all in our late 30s. It was a fun weekend, with not a lot sleep.
F: Where do you play out here?
J: We have played in almost every venue in Chicago over the years, but The Hideout is our favorite place to play. Our next gig in Chicago is at the Pitchfork Music Festival; we are playing there on July 19th. There is a poster convention at the festival too, and I’ll be there showing and hopefully selling my posters.
F: What neighborhood do you live in? What do you do around there?
J: I live in Evanston, mow the lawn and walk the dog daily – I am fully suburban, as I work and live outside the city. Actually, there’s not a whole lot to do really close to my house, though there’s plenty within biking distance. I go to Chicago a lot. I used to live near Granville and Western. First best reason to go into Chicago is to go to Hot Doug’s, then Kuma’s Corner to get an amazing cheeseburger. I just had a swine flu burger there and it was great. I love browsing books at Quimby’s Books in Wicker Park and spend more money then I should at Reckless Records. Oh yeah, I also enjoy going to Rotofugi, Renegade Handmade, and eating at Milk & Honey.
F: What is your favorite gallery or place to check out visual art?
J: Rotofugi is like a vinyl toy store, but they also have some books, and have gallery space. Definitely have a bunch of good stuff there. Heaven Gallery is cool too.
F: Where can we see your work?
J: This is where I go hi-tech. Best place to see my prints is to check out my website.