Jim Riswold: Bad People Have To Eat Too • September 7 – October 20, 2007

| September 7, 2007

Stalin's Cupcake Red YellowSunday, January 07, 2007

Ad Guru Turned Artist Skewers Political World with Satire

— D.K. Row, The Oregonian

If the Bush administration had wanted to find a less violent and costly way of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, it might have turned to photographer Jim Riswold, the superstar ad executive turned conceptual photographer. His ridicule is that withering.

Employing a fleet of toy dolls, miniature sets and a willingness to offend, Riswold has earned a reputation as an art-world provocateur of the first rank, slyly stripping away the sheen of power and macho invulnerability surrounding some of history’s most infamous figures: Napoleon, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. The latter he turned into a domestic diva, a dainty figurine balanced atop a toy vacuum cleaner.

Now, in his latest show at Augen Gallery, Riswold further cements his role as the local scene’s most audacious political satirist. In dozens of photo-based works, sculptures and installations, Riswold strips away the aura surrounding communist leader Mao Zedong, planting his mug on carpets and cookie molds, adorning his bald pate with pink ski caps, even making him the main course in a takeout box of Chinese food. Forget tough talk by presidential deciders: Riswold’s brand of perverse whimsy is the most disarming form of diplomatic judo a government can brandish.

But the story of how Riswold developed these powers begins with his other irreverent career.

Art via advertising.

Before photographing toy dolls of despised historical figures, Riswold, like his hero, Andy Warhol, spent an apprenticeship in the commercial industry.

For 22 years, Riswold worked as an advertising copywriter and creative director at Wieden+Kennedy. At the time, the local agency was not yet an internationally regarded Pearl District powerhouse. It was a downtown boutique firm that, in the words of co-founder Dan Wieden, was still willing to throw spaghetti on the wall for inspiration.

Within a deeply competitive environment that mixed philosophy, art, jock culture and elbow-throwing business savvy, Riswold rose above. A Washington native who studied philosophy, history and communications at the University of Washington, Riswold invented new, delirious ways for Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson and Suzy Favor Hamilton to shill for Nike’s Swoosh.

“He had the uncanny ability to walk into a situation where the client was trying to figure something out, and synthesize that and make it simple and memorable,” Wieden says. “I can’t tell you how most of us just walk around and muck things up . . . that’s what made him a great creative director.”

Riswold also polished a simple creative philosophy followed by many but one that he perfected: Take two opposite elements, be outrageous and see what happens.

In Riswold’s world, Bo Jackson played the blues with Bo Diddley. David Robinson mixed it up with Mr. Rogers. Bugs Bunny befuddled Michael Jordan, and Suzy Favor Hamilton outsprinted the killer from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The Nike ads, like the oddball pairing of stars, reveled in contradiction, blending cynicism and wonder, beauty and bad taste, satire and earnestness into a sweet song of consumer seduction.




Category: Art

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