Portland’s Pop Art Impresario

Creatives in advertising are crazy and they all have idle screenplays hidden in their desks. It’s a well worn cliché.
Yet, Adweek has found nuance in Jim Riswold. He may well be a wing nut, but it was not a screenplay he was harboring, it was art.

Having transformed himself from a notorious creative director to impious pop artist during a five-year battle with cancer, Riswold, 50, says he’s gone from “a career of selling people things they don’t need to making things that people don’t want.”
“I just wanted to see if I could do something more in my life,” says Riswold of his transformation from “fake advertising exec to fake artist,” as he puts it. “I just figured, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone calls me ham-fisted or pretentious, or I’d wind up poor, but I’d be dead soon anyway.”
Coming from Riswold, that’s not the hollow humor of arty nihilism. He resigned from active duty at Wieden in 2003 when he was stricken with a rare form of cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia. His chances of survival were so poor he became one of the first patients to try the experimental drug STI571 (now Gleevec). “My oncologist happens to have developed it,” Riswold says. “I guess I got the wrong disease at the right time in the right city.”

Some other interesting tidbits from The World of Riswold: he was booted form the Nike account seven times (even though he made some of the best commercials in the brand’s history) and W+K (where he continues to consult) pays his health insurance. I noticed on his site that his contact button also takes you to a W+K email address for him.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.