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Brain injuries can sometimes reveal extraordinary talents in people. Now, savant syndrome is helping to create whole new fields of scientific discovery. Jon Sarkin appears at 15:00.
View the video/article on Huffington Post.
Altered mind: creation of an artist
What would you do if you had a symptom so severe that you thought of ending your own life? If one operation could cure you or leave you with devastating disability? That was the conundrum faced by Jon Sarkin, a chiropractor from the USA who developed a tortuous noise in his ears, tinnitus, which he described as being “like a thousand screaming baboons…”.
<a href=”http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(11)70240-X/fulltext” target=”_blank”>See the excerpt on thelancet.com</a>
In 1988, Jon Sarkin was working full-time as a chiropractor, when one day, a sharp, paralyzing pain shot through his head. In the weeks after, he suffered from a constant ringing in his ear, and from distortions in his hearing that made even soft noises intolerably loud. Soon after, a visit to the doctor would reveal the source of Sarkin’s suffering, a swollen blood vessel in his brain, which had expanded and impinged on his auditory nerve. The only remedy would be brain surgery, the results of which could range from complete success to catastrophe. When Sarkin awoke after the surgery, his head was bleeding profusely. And something else had changed.
Sarkin had suffered a stroke during surgery, and even after the initial stages of recovery– relearning speech, sitting, walking and other basic tasks– his family would come to notice sweeping changes in his personality. He was considerably less restrained in conversation, unable to filter his thoughts, less responsive to the concerns of others, and distant. As a husband and father, he simply was not the same. Despite the strain put on many of his relationships though, Sarkin soon developed a new passion of sorts. Or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a compulsion. Jon had begun to draw– quite often –and he couldn’t seem to stop.
He began to doodle, and then to flesh out full-blown drawings, with increasing intentionality and complexity. He drew everywhere, even at the dinner table, or in the middle of conversations. Sarkin became obsessive about the drawings, producing pieces of art constantly, often without any explanation. Whatever change his brain had undergone as a result of the stroke, it had unlocked in Jon a seemingly boundless reservoir of artistic inspiration which he seemed to channel instinctively.
It was almost as if he had no say in the matter– he simply had to create. When asked about the meaning of his pieces, Sarkin seemed at a loss, unable to explain the subconscious process behind his sudden burst of creativity. Over the next decade, he began to sell drawings to various publications, and abandoned his former profession. 2003 would see Sarkin’s first solo art exhibition in New York, but certainly not his last, as he managed to rack up $20,000 in sales over the first few hours.
Today, Sarkin is as active as ever artistically, having produced and sold thousands of drawings, mixed-media collages and other pieces. All backstory aside, the content of the work is fascinating too. Bright colors, illegible scribbles, obscure poetic phrases, names and faces of other artists and pop culture inspirations– Sarkin’s work reveals an extraordinary mind at work, a signature style that suggests the chaos of the creative process behind it. From chiropractor to fine art cult hero. I suppose you never know where life will take you. Featured here is a brief selection of Jon’s work. More from him here, and more about his story here.
<a href=”http://wineandbowties.com/art/jon-sarkin-compulsive-creativity/” target=”_blank”>Check out the feature article on wineandbowties.com</a>
Princeton Day School Students Curate an Exhibition with Three Artists
Jon Sarkin, “Untitled” (Courtesy of Princeton Day School)
The Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery at Princeton Day School is proud to present Facets, an exhibition curated by students Rachel Maddox ‘12 and Nicole Keim ’12, including the work of Jon Sarkin, Chris Harford, and Greg Nangle.
After seeing a group exhibition of thirty artists in a Princeton art gallery, Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery Club Co-Heads Rachel Maddox and Nicole Keim invited three leading artists to exhibit at the school. The Gallery Club will donate proceeds from sales during the exhibit to the ArtSpace Project at HomeFront.
Twenty-three years ago, chiropractor Jon Sarkin, was playing golf when suddenly, a tiny blood vessel as thin as a hair, shifted very slightly and rubbed onto an acoustic nerve in his brain. After months of desperation and excruciating audio noise, Sarkin resorted to radical deep-brain surgery. The surgery went well until he began to bleed internally and suffered a major stoke. Awakening a different man, Sarkin was no longer the calm, happily married father he had been, but rather transformed into a volatile and obsessive artist, detached from his former life and drastically altered.
<a href=”http://princetonecho.com/2011/11/15/princeton-day-school-students-curate-an-exhibition-with-three-artists/” target=”_blank”>Read the full feature article webpage on princetonecho.com</a>
There was a piano. There was a gong. There was an organ. There was a trumpet. Not to mention guitars, an electric guitar, a harmonica, drums, percussion, a violinist, and a cellist. This was not the typical rock concert—this was Guster, featuring Adam Gardner ’91, Brian Rosenworcel, Ryan Miller, and Luke Reynolds, performing in Pingry’s Hauser Auditorium on March 30 as part of the 150th Anniversary Lecture and Performance Series.
The band performed a number of its songs, including “Do You Love Me?” for which the audience leapt to its feet and clapped along (the audience continued to stand for the encore, when the band donned Pingry T-shirts). Mr. Gardner and his colleagues took requests and shared humorous comments with the audience, including Mr. Gardner’s story about telling Varsity Soccer Head Coach Miller Bugliari ’52 (that day) that “I’m playing music!” after Mr. Bugliari told Mr. Gardner in his junior year to focus on his ball skills to get into college. Another impressive aspect of the concert was the rigorous playing of the violinist and cellist, Charlene and April.
Joining Guster was artist Dr. Jon Sarkin ’71, a frequent collaborator with the group, who spent the concert sketching an image that resembled a large bull’s-eye…a red center surrounded by shades of green, orange, blue, yellow, and purple. The evening’s third Pingry connection was Pulitzer Prize-winning author Amy Ellis Nutt, daughter of David Nutt ’40, who signed copies of her book about Dr. Sarkin, Shadows Bright as Glass.
Incidentally, the name “Guster” is a fabrication: the band members met at Tufts University and initially called themselves “Gus.” To distinguish themselves from other “Gus” bands that had already signed with major labels, they later added “ter.”
Look for further coverage of Guster’s concert in an upcoming issue of The Pingry Review.
Top photo: Guster, with Adam Gardner ’91 third from left.
Middle photo: Guster performing its encore.
Bottom photo: Dr. Jon Sarkin ’71 sketching artwork during the concert.