Jon Sarkin at Art FInder

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    Outsider Art, or Art Brut as it was called by Jean Dubuffet who coined the term in the 1940s, was primarily used to categorize art that is outside of the traditional art school, or art world arena. Dubuffet focussed his definition around the art of mentally ill patients and children, however the term has been expanded to include the art of those artists who have not received formal training. As outsider artist Jon Sarkin sees it, this is art made by someone who is free from the forced opinions of art school. Outsider Art is swiftly gaining a huge following, and critics such as Jerry Saltz are calling upon museums to integrate Outsider Art into their collections. Although it is created outside of the conventional art culture, it possesses a unique style, charm and originality, as is seen in the art of Jon Sarkin. We spoke to the artist earlier in the year when he visited us in London.

  • Jon Sarkin philosophises on life, art and fun. “You have to have fun,” he emphasizes with his relaxed American drawl. Restricting himself to working in his studio on a daily 9 – 5 schedule, Sarkin is anything but restrained. He declares that time, space, and reality fall away while he is working. His art flows out of him in a stream of consciousness, uncontrollable, and apparently unstoppable; death is the only thing that can impede him. Attempts to control his art make it unnatural and wrong. Brilliant and witty, his mind works at an incredible wavelength and level, and he acknowledges this, embracing it in his art.

    Sarkin is what is called an acquired savant – his exceptional artistic ability was unleashed when he suffered a stroke at the age of 35. In order to save his life, doctors cut out part of his brain, and in doing so, gave Sarkin a new personality, with new interests, passions and abilities. Deeply aware of the difference between his two selves, Sarkin grieves for what he has lost. When asked if he prefers his present life, the former chiropractor’s answer is no. But despite his frequent nightmares, his approach is practical: “what are you going to do”, he asks.

  • When asked about his inspirations, Sarkin advises actively looking for inspiration. He is constantly inspired; to him a watch catching the light against an-otherwise dark outfit is fascinating. Sarkin is a proponent of rediscovery – he enjoys reviving objects, words, and sights. The repetition and inclusion of words is particularly important in his art, and the constant replication of words brings out new meanings for him. Repeating the word “again” slowly, jarringly, quickly, breaking it into two words, or even into three, and similarly connecting “orang-u-tan” to “aren’t we purple.” Each of the pronunciations and variations fascinates Sarkin, and provides new material for him to work with. Transferring words into images and vice versa, Sarkin’s art is full of energy; he pushes his viewers to look at their worlds through fresh, untainted eyes to rediscover what they think they already know.

    Despite his lack of Fine Art training, Sarkin is well aware of the work and influences of other artists. Considering the similarity in the raw passion and imagery of their pieces, Basquiat is fittingly one of his preferred choices with whom to party; Caravaggio and Da Vinci are the other two, although Damien Hirst is a strong contender. Sarkin realizes that a successful painting is defined by a number of changing boundaries; there is no particular formula for a great painting, although critics have certainly tried to define it, “you can write an infinite number of words and never get down to, but you know when you see it.”