Boston Globe Review

Showcasing the work of an outsider artist


Boston Articles
January 31, 2012|By Cate McQuaid
  • Jon Sarkins Clinched Teeth, currently on exhibit at VSA Massachusetts Open Door Gallery.
Jon Sarkins Clinched Teeth, currently on exhibit at VSA Massachusetts… (Lorri Berenberg )

Maybe you’ve heard of Jon Sarkin. A former chiropractor, he had a brain hemorrhage back in the late 1980s, followed by a stroke that nearly killed him, and he came through the ordeal an artist with an antic need to create. He has received a lot of media attention, not so much for his art as for his story, and last year a biography of Sarkin came out, “Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey From Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph,’’ by Amy Ellis Nutt.

But what about his art? Sarkin, who works out of a studio in Gloucester, has an exhibit up at VSA Massachusetts Open Door Gallery. VSA Massachusetts is a state-funded agency supporting disabled artists. Independent curator Lorri Berenberg put the exhibit together; she specializes in fostering the work of outsider artists – that is, artists who are self-taught, and sometimes disabled. They break into the art establishment from outside.

“Jon Sarkin: Line by Line,’’ features two distinct bodies of work, one quite captivating, the other muddy and unrealized. The first reads like a wild, internal architecture of lists, patterns, and nervy characters. Text perseverates over most of these pieces.

In “They That Go Down,’’ the phrase “They that go down to the sea in ships’’ hovers at the top, above a wide-jawed cartoon figure with one big, round eye and a blue Mohawk. Sarkin scrawls “Utah’’ repeatedly over this one, and he name checks Keith Moon, Vermeer, and “Crumb Crumb Crumb Crumb.’’

These works are crisp, wacky, and unnerving. All the stray parts, the obsessive lines and patterns, the occasional dirty washes of color that recall cotton candy or scorched earth, coalesce into a muttering, demanding whole. There’s a vision here, one that gnaws at you and pokes at your sleeve.

For “Clinched Teeth,’’ Sarkin leaves the text out, and populates his page with an oddball gallery of his figures, who merge into an overall scene that is part city, part machine. They recall the nervous energy and defiance of R. Crumb and Ralph Steadman. The result is muscular and demanding.


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