What took you so long? Charney and DiGregorio

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Jon Sarkin

That flying fish didn’t as much speak to me; that wicked metallic tuna up and gaffed my psyche.

I’d never been to Gloucester. Not until an iron-cold January afternoon last year. Nor had I heard of artist Jon Sarkin.

Yet here I was, on Gloucester’s sinewy Main Street: The aforementioned brutalist sculpture, poised above Sarkin’s Fish City Studio had pulled me in as if it wielded some preternatural force.

Inasmuch, Jon Sarkin wasn’t making himself, or his art particularly accessible. The picture window that fronted Sarkin’s studio was all but hermetically veiled by Boston Globe pages: 30-year old broadsheets turned yellow-brown that straight-armed the casual observer, or mildly curious.

But that wouldn’t be my fate.

Craning my neck drastically to the right, I found a maybe two-inch gap in the window covering. Reposed against what appeared to be the rear of the narrow, hard-edged workspace, I could discern a hooded figure. The latter seemed more Unabomber than Hopper or Homer.

Before I knew it, some synchronous gyre, some unforeseen vortex had lifted me up the cement stoop. Pushing my way in the door, a debris field that spoke to an explosion of mad genius spread before me.

All over the wooden floor, on nine foot lengths of canvas stretched across facing walls, stacked haphazardly into every dusty corner lay Sarkin’s oeuvre: a distilling of Basquiat meets Steadman meets Fluxist-influenced paintings and sketches. Save for a few, all were stippled in bursts of verse, as though Sarkin sampled fellow Nor’easters Jack Kerouac and Jonathan Richman.

Noticing big dollops of bright paint on his sweatshirt, I knew this was Sarkin. Yet rather than introduce himself, he asked in a tone equally deadpan as it was bemused, “What took you so long?”

I’ve been in the thrall of Gloucester’s magus-conjurer ever since. —Michael DiGregorio