GQ Archive


Pingry School Achievement in the Arts Award

Jon Sarkin is a prolific artist who creates elaborate drawings and paintings filled with words and images, among other artistic endeavors. Sarkin has been painting for over 20 years. His work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ABC Primetime, This American Life, GQ, ARTNews, and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world. He lives and works in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.


Jonathan Sarkin is a self-taught contemporary American artist.

See Sarkin on


Born in 1953 in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Hillside, New Jersey, Jon Sarkin is the middle child of Stanley Sarkin and Elaine Sarkin Zheutlin. He graduated from the Pingry School in Elizabeth, New Jersey (since moved to Martinsville, New Jersey), in 1971. His father, a dentist in Elizabeth, New Jersey, died of a heart attack in 1972 at age 49.

In 1975, Jon graduated with a BA degree in Biology from The University of Pennsylvania, and received his MS degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University in 1977. He received his DC (Doctor of Chiropractic) from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1980. His older brother, Richard, was a pediatrician, while his younger sister, Jane, is Features Editor for Vanity Fair. In 1982, Jon opened a Chiropractic office in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. In 1986 he married Kim Richardson.

In 1988 at the age of 35, Jon suddenly developed tinnitus, a ringing in the ears caused by a blood vessel in his head pushing against an acoustic nerve, as well as hyperacusis, an over-sensitivity to certain frequency ranges of sound. In 1989, to alleviate the condition, he underwent surgery after which he suffered a cerebellar hemorrhage and a subsequent stroke. Jon awoke from the surgery deaf in one ear, his vision splintered, and his balance permanently skewed. Neurologists told him his brain had been permanently changed through the surgery, with parts sliced and removed to alleviate the condition. The neurons that were left had to make new connections and find new meaning.

As a result, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the semblance of his former life. Sarkin became obsessed with drawing, but different from the kinds of focused sketches he had made before the stroke. Instead of visual jokes and puns he drew before, his new works were akin to distorted cartoon faces with symbols that sometimes overlapped the features, like Jean Giraud’s Moebius strips. Influenced by comics and popular culture, the images kept coming, spilling out of some dark unknown place in his brain.

While strokes are common, the effects differ from patient to patient; Jon’s condition, known as “sudden artistic output”, is one of only three cases caused by brain injury to have ever been documented. Jon is unable to see the world as a whole, and unable to ignore it in its infinite detail. There are no filters, no chance for his brain to slow everything down and order the world into meaningful images and scenes. His brain constantly tries to make sense of the world, and he constantly tries to make sense of his brain’s failure – through colors and images and words. He cannot stop. He does not want to stop. In fact, he is afraid to stop. He is an accidental artist. He has the need to draw, to put it all down on paper. It is his engine, his purpose for living.

Jon has been featured in Vanity Fair, ABC Medical Mysteries Discovery Channel Documentary “Tormented by Genius,” GQ, ARTNews, and the American Visionary Art Museum. In addition, he has been featured in Art New England, 2011.

Jon created the album art for Guster’s latest album, Easy Wonderful, and he also created art for (and appears in) their music video/single “Do You Love Me?”  Tom Cruise’s production company is developing a movie based on his life story.  In 2011, Pulitzer Prize winning author Amy Ellis Nutt wrote a book about Jon Sarkin, “Shadows Bright as Glass,” for which she and Jon were interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR, Fresh Air.

In addition to elaborate drawings and paintings cluttered with words and images, Jon also paints portraiture, landscapes, and color fields devoid of complicated, overlapping images. Jon’s current studio is located in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Jon lives in Rockport, Massachusetts with his wife Kim and son Curtis, and daughters Robin and Caroline. Jon continues to show his artwork around the world.

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Sarkin’s Resume


94R Main Street

Rockport, MA  01930

(978) 282-0334

cell:  (978) 888-5320


1967-71:  The Pingry School, Elizabeth, NJ (now in Martinsville, NJ)

1971-75: Univ. of Penn. (BA, Biology)

1975-77:  Rutgers Univ. (MS, Environmental Science)

1977-80:  Palmer College of Chiropractic, Davenport, IA

  (DC {Doctor of Chiropractic})

EXHIBITIONS (asterisk indicates solo exhibition):

*Mar., 2012:  The Pingry School, Martinsville, NJ
*Jan. – Mar., 2012:  Open Door Gallery,  Boston
*Dec., 2011:  Princeton Day School, Princeton, NJ
*April 2011:  PEAC Gallery, Pennington, NJ
*Feb., 2011:  Traylor Gallery, Hightstown, NJ
July 2010:  Bass Rocks Beach Club, Gloucester, MA 

Mar. – Apr. 2010:  Straube Gallery, Princeton, NJ

*Sept. 2009:  Blackburn Gallery, Gloucester, MA

Sept. 2009:  Traylor Gallery, Princeton, NJ

May 2009:  Riverfront Gallery, Millville, NJ

Sept. – Oct. 2008:  The Pingry School, Martinsville, NJ

*Sept. 2008:  Bait and Tackle Gallery, Gloucester, MA

*Aug. – Oct. 2008:  Shrine Gallery, Gloucester, MA

July 2008:  Bass Rocks Beach Club, Gloucester, MA 

July 2008:  Flat Rocks Gallery, Gloucester, MA

July 2008:  Blackburn Performing Arts Center, Gloucester, MA

July 2008:  Jane Deering Gallery, Gloucester, MA

June 2008:  Bob Woolf Gallery, Gloucester, MA

*Apr. 2008:  Home of Martin B. O’Connor II, New Vernon, NJ

Feb. 2008:  Novas Centre, Liverpool, England

Oct. 2007:  Philoctetes Center, New York

July 2007:  Bass Rocks Beach Club, Gloucester, MA

Mar. 2007:  Jane Deering Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

*Sept. 2006:  Bigzanda Gallery, Gloucester, MA

Apr. – Aug. 2006:  Decordova Museum, Lincoln, MA

Aug. 2006:  Jane Deering Gallery, Boston

July 2006:  Jane Deering Gallery, Gloucester, MA

*July 2006:  Earl McGrath Gallery, Los Angeles

July 2006:  Bass Rocks Beach Club, Gloucester, MA

Mar. 2007:  Jane Deering Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

*Sept. 2005:  Artspace Gallery, Gloucester, MA

*Aug. 2005:  Bigzanda Gallery, Gloucester, MA

July – Aug. 2005:  Jane Deering Gallery, Gloucester, MA

Mar. 2005:  Jane Deering Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

*Apr. 2005:  The Revolving Museum, Lowell, MA

July – Aug. 2004:  Jane Deering Gallery, Gloucester, MA

*Dec. 2004:  For Rent Gallery, Gloucester, MA

*Nov.  2004:  The Pingry School, New Vernon, NJ

*Nov. 2003:  Jim Budman Gallery, New York

*July 2003:  Sunny Day Gallery, Gloucester MA

*Mar. 2003:  Home of Martin B. O’Connor II, New Vernon, NJ 

Apr. 2003:  Diane von Furstenburg Gallery, New York

May 2000:  School Street Gallery, Rockport, MA

Oct. 1999:  School Street Galllery, Rockport, MA

Apr. 1999:  Organization of Independent Artists, New York 


Papers of Calvin Tomkins (The New Yorker Art Critic),  

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Tom Cruise (Actor), Los Angeles

Graydon Carter (Editor of Vanity Fair), New York

Annie Leibovitz (Photographer), New York

Bryan Lourd (Film Agent), Los Angeles

Paula Wagner (Head of United Artists Films), Los Angeles

Kevin Huvane (Film Agent), Los Angeles

Richard Lovett (Film Agent), Los Angeles

Billy Ray (Screenwriter), Los Angeles

Robert Bookman (Literary Agent), Los Angeles

Diane von Furstenburg (Fashion Designer), New York

Barry Diller (Media Mogul), New York

Mullen Advertising, Boston

Mark Wenneker (Creative Director, Mullen Advertising, Boston)

Alice Flaherty, MD (Neurologist, Author), Boston

Ira Glass (Radio Personality), Chicago

Amy Ellis Nutt (Journalist, Author), Newark, NJ

Jennifer Brown (Photographer), Newark, NJ

Andre Malok (Graphic Designer), Newark, NJ

Tony Millionaire (Artist), Pasadena, CA

Willie Alexander (Recording Artist), Gloucester, MA

Chris Lydon (Radio Personality), Boston

Jane Deering (Art Dealer), Boston

Mac Bell (Real Estate Developer), Gloucester, MA

Chris Brady (Chart Group), New York

Frank Shephard (Chart Group), New York

Decordova Museum, Lincoln, MA

Revolving Museum, Lowell, MA

The Pingry School, Martinsville, NJ 

Brian Rosenworcel (of the band Guster)

Adam Gardner (Guster)

Ryan Miller (Guster)


“Zine Dreams,” New York Times Magazine, David Gross, Dec. 3. 1996 

“Metamorphosis,” GQ , Andrew Corsello, Jan., 1997:

“Tom Cruise Buys Stroke Victim’s Story,” Mr. Showbiz,  Anonymous, Feb. 2, 1997

“Cruise Could Play Stroke Victim,” E! Online, Jeff B. Copeland, Feb. 5, 1997

“Hunting for the Sark,” The Finger, Sam Pratt, Apr. 20, 1998

“Artist Unleashed,” The Penn Gazette, Susan Lonkevich, May, 1999:

“Artistic Lightning,” Awakenings, Terri Knudsen, May 24, 1999

“Interview with Jon Sarkin,” The Boston Globe MagazineJohn Koch, May 9, 1999

“Seven Questions for Jon Sarkin,” Seven Questions, Tom Mangan, Jan., 2000

“An Oscar Story in the Making:  The Life Tom Cruise Just Had to Have,”

   The New York Post, Peter Sheridan, March 26, 2000:

“A Stroke of Genius,” North Shore Weekly, Linda Roth, June 4, 2000

“Sight and Sound,” ARTnews, Elisabeth Morse, July, 2000

“An Explosion That Changed Everything,” The London Telegraph,

   James Langton, Jan. 20, 2001:

“Heady Stuff,” Town Online, David Rattigan, Aug. 24, 2001

“Art out of Adversity,” Backroads of New England (Book Excerpt), Chris Spurling, 2001

“Getting a Good Laugh out of Life,” Gloucester Daily TimesGreg Cook, Feb. 12, 2003

“Stroke of Genius,” Newark Star-Ledger, Amy Ellis Nutt, Apr. 25, 2003:

“The Art of Healing:  Jon Sarkin’s Kinetic Vision,” Vanity Fair,

Kevin Sessums, May, 2003:

“The Awakening of Dr. Jonathan Sarkin, Artist,” Pingry ReviewRenee Walker, Nov., 2004:

“Life Through Paint and Canvas,” Gloucester Daily TimesGail McCarthy, Nov. 20, 2004:

“Stroke of Genius,” Reader’s Digest, Ellen Sherman, Sep., 2005:

“A Changed Man,” The Boston Globe, Geoff Edgers, June 11, 2006: 

“Jon Sarkin:  An Audio Slide Show,” The Boston Globe WebsiteJune 11, 2006: 

“Melding Art, Music and Words, ‘Big Top Road’ takes Cape Ann on a Ride

This  Weekend,” Gloucester Daily Times, Gail McCarthy, Oct. 12, 2006:

“The Science of Art,” Neurology Now, Linda Carroll, Nov.-Dec., 2006: 200602060-00020

“Local Artist Honored for Overcoming Disability with his Art,”  Gloucester Daily Times, Matthew Webster, 

March 13, 2007: 

“Painting the Mind,” Four Corners (Australia) June, 2007:  

“Sarkin Photo, Explained,” The Exhibitionist, Geoff Edgers, June 26, 2007

“A Rewired Mind” (Audiovisual Slide Show), Gloucester Daily Times,

    Oct. 2, 2007:

“Sarkin and McHugh at Novas Centre,” Novas Website, April 27, 2008

“Artist and Poet Jon Sarkin ’71 Donates His Time and Talent,”

The Pingry School, May 6, 2008:

“Jon Sarkin Hosts First Art Show on Rocky Neck,” Gloucester Daily Times, August 28, 2008

“On the Brain,” Publishers Weekly, Matthew Thorton, Oct. 27, 2008

“An Accidental Artist,” Newark Star Ledger, Amy Nutt, Nov. 23, 2008:

“Chat with ‘Accidental Artist’ Author Amy Ellis Nutt,” Newark Star Ledger On-line, Brian Donohue, Dec. 9. 2008:  

“Jon Sarkin:  A Medical Mystery and Artistic Savant,” Adam Klappholz, 

GQ On-line, Dec. 18. 2008:

“From Stroke Victim to Commissioned Artist:  The Curious Case of Jon Sarkin, Adam Klappholz, GQ On-line

  June 18, 2009:

“Unbound Creativity,”, June 5, 2009:

“Unbound,” Videography by Jess Pearson, Youtube, June 19, 2009:

“Jon Sarkin at Mullen Advertising,” Videography by Jess Pearson, Youtube, June 19, 2009

“Jon Sarkin Donates Art to WGBH Auction,” Youtube, May, 2010

“Tour of Jon Sarkin’s Studio,” YoutubeApril 27, 2010

“Life in a Day,” Youtube, July 24, 2010     

“Interview with Terry Gross on NPR re:  my biography, Shadows Bright as Glass, by Amy Ellis Nutt, NPR’s Fresh 

 Air, May, 2011:

“Broad Brushstrokes Obscure a View of Brain Trauma,” (Review of Shadows Bright as Glass), Abigail Zuger, 

 New York Times, May 31, 2011: 

“Mental Images,” Jan. 18, 2012, CHS Research Bulletin,, Alexandra Pappas:

“Jon Sarkin:  Compulsive Creativity,”

“Six People Who Gained Amazing Skills From Brain Injuries,”, Dec. 1. 2011:

“Healing Arts, Healing Hands,” Dec. 1, 2011, Today’s Chiropractic, Katie Brown:

Wikipedia entry:

“Showcasing the Work of an Outsider Artist,” Jan. 31, 2012, Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid:


The New Yorker

Penn Gazette

CD Cover: “Dog Bar Yacht Club,”  Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band

CD Cover:  “Light City,” Dan King

CD Cover:  “Western Lands,” Dan King

CD Cover:  “Easy Wonderful,” Guster

CD Cover:  “Welcome to the Carnival,” Bandit Kings


“The Connection,” (Chris Lydon, host), WBUR-FM

This American Life, (Ira Glass, host), WBUR-FM

BBC:  The World,” WGBH-FM


“Chronicle,” WCVB-TV (Boston)

“Stroke,” Discovery Channel

“Painting the Mind,” Australian and British TV

“Medical Mysteries,” ABC-News

“My Strange Brain,” Granada TV (UK)

“Profiles,” Cape Ann (MA) TV


“What’s Your Story:  Jon Sarkin at The Budman Studio, August, 

   2002,” Beautiful Films 


    *The rights to my life story have been purchased by United Artists for

        a film to be developed by Tom Cruise’s production company.  A script 

        has been written and a director has been chosen.

     *A website about me has been established.  Its URL is

      *A biography is being written about me by Pulitzer Prize finalist Amy Ellis Nutt.  Release date is April, 2011.

*In 2005, I taught a master class at The Revolving Museum in Lowell, MA. 

*In 2000 and 2001, I was an artist-in-residence at the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA.

*From 2005 – 2009, I have been an artist-in-residence at The Pingry School in Martinsville, NJ, where, I have taught both art and English.

*I am currently writing my autobiography.


*I am currently writing an illustrating a novel.

*In 2007, I was awarded a Wynn Newhouse Foundation prize for artists with disabiltiies.

*I have written dozens of volumes of poetry.

*I have produced several hours of music.

*I starred in a multimedia show, Big Top Road, at the West End Theater in Gloucester, MA in October of 2006.   It featured the musicians Dave Mattucks on drums (George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention, Roseanne Cash, XTC), David Brown, guitar (Billy Joel, Paul McCartney), Wolf Ginandes, bass (Light City), Dan King, guitar (Light City), and Matt Webster, soundscapes.

*I was featured in the film “Polis is This:  The Life and Poetry of Charles Olson,” by filmaker Henry Ferrini.

*I was in the short film “The Ghost of Dogtown, by film-maker Chad Carlberg.

* I wrote a concert review abiout Bob Dylan that was published on The Boston Globe website.

*I created a music video (“I Never Wanted Everything”) for the musician Sten Bowen

in August of 2007 (Available on Youtube).

*I was the guest artist for the comic strip Maakies, by artist Tony Millionaire.

*I acted in the short film “Daniel” by film-maker Emile Doucette (Available on Youtube).

*I created a mural (26′ X 5′) for Mullen Advertising in Boston.

*I did a large painting as the backdrop for a music video by the guitarist David Patterson. This video is currently in production.

*From 2008 – 2012, I’ve donated artwork to an on-air auction on WGBH-TV (Boston).

*I served on a committee at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston that was forming an interdisciplinary program between doctors and artists.

*I did a music video with the band Guster in August, 2010.   

*I’ve done two performance art pieces while the band Guster plays:  one at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in March, 2011, and one at the Pingry School in Martinsville, NJ in March of 2012. 

*I designed a shirt for the Large Pelagics Research Center in Gloucester, MA.

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Today’s Chiropractic

Healing Art, Healing Hands

By Katie Brown


For chiropractors, working with their hands has become second nature. From palpating subluxations to correcting them, chiropractors must continously be in tune with a patient’s body through their hands. In essence, a chiropractor’s care can often be compared to a form of art, carefully and meticulously targeting specific areas with refinement in the hopes of creating a fully functioning body.

So with such well-trained and fine-tuned hands, it’s no wonder many chiropractors have begun using their hands in a new venue—art. From photography to painting to sculpting, artists find themselves pushing their limits and testing their creativity through a variety of techniques and mediums. While Chiropractic may have been their original profession, these chiropractor artists have combined their chiropractic background with inspiration and creativity to produce their own one-of-a-kind artwork.

Jon Sarkin, D.C.

Today, Jon Sarkin is a world-renowned artist. His life almost seems surreal—he’s had interviews featured in GQ and Vanity Fair magazines, a book about himself called “Shadows Bright as Glass” written by Pulitzer Prize-
winning author Amy Ellis Nut, art featured on the cover of the American alternative rock band Guster’s 2010 album “Easy Wonderful” and the rights to a screenplay about his life bought by Paramount Pictures.

While his art now consumes his life, Sarkin had to pay a high price to discover his artistic talent. In 1989, after undergoing surgery to help relieve the ringing in his ears from the tinnitus that he had developed the year earlier, Sarkin suffered a stroke.

Prior to his stroke, Sarkin was a chiropractor. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in environmental science from Rutgers University, in 1980 Sarkin received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic. In 1982, Sarkin owned a chiropractic practice in South Hamilton, Mass. While Sarkin continued as a chiropractor for a few years after his stroke, he decided to sell his practice in 1994 due to difficulties he experienced with properly caring for his patients and also because of his new-found love of art.

For Sarkin, his transition from Chiropractic to art was an evolving process. “The transition was not a then-and-now transition,” he says. “The transformation for me was very challenging because I had a certain skill set as a chiropractor, and all of a sudden I wasn’t able to do it anymore.”

Sarkin says that the most challenging part of his stroke was not being the same person he once was, especially for his wife and children. But once Sarkin committed to his new profession, he noticed one glaring difference between being a chiropractor and an artist—the people. He notes that as a successful chiropractor, he was constantly busy and surrounded by people. However, as an artist, he spends most of his time alone, listening to talk radio to simply hear voices around him.

From album covers and photographs to wood and plastic, Sarkin uses an eclectic mix of materials and products on which to draw and paint. While some of his artwork can be found on more conventional backgrounds, like paper and canvas, Sarkin’s colorful, unfiltered artwork is sure to make a statement. “The primary thrust for me in visual arts is using permanent markers, colored pencils, paint and pastels,” he says. “Anything you can imagine drawing on, I draw on.”

While Sarkin’s artistic capabilities were not fully realized until he sold his chiropractic practice, art has always been a strong part of him, even as a chiropractor. “I’ve always been interested in art since I was a little kid,” he says. “I took art classes and liked going to museums, but I always considered it a vocation. I brought that same artistic sense to Chiropractic and thought about my practice in a holistic sense. In retrospect, I think what made me a good chiropractor is that I was able to look at Chiropractic differently.”

Even though Sarkin, whose artwork often sells for as much as $10,000, is now more focused on shading techniques and improving his work than adjustments and caring for patients, he says that it was his artistic mind that made him an effective chiropractor and continues to propel his success as an artist. “I brought my artistic sense to Chiropractic, and now I’ve simply retooled it,” he says. “What I’m doing now is not that different than what I was doing as a chiropractor. It’s the same brain, and I’m still the same person.”

Roy Halpern, D.C.

Like Sarkin, Roy Halpern’s beginning as an artist was somewhat accidental. About 10 years ago, Halpern, a chiropractor from Sebastopol, Calif., went to Alaska to watch the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a two-week-long, 1,150-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome. Working with the Iditarod Trail Committee as a chiropractor for both the dogs and mushers (the people relaying commands to the team of dogs), Halpern was able to see things others would never be able to experience.

“I saw wonderful places—the Northern Lights and the animals,” Halpern recalls. “I became obsessed with Alaska, and I would go during the winter and summer. I would be in the Arctic, looking for polar bears, walking with a moose and her baby or watching grizzly cubs nurse from their moms. I realized I was seeing things that people would never see, and I felt I must capture these moments. People need to see nature and appreciate the wild, so I started shooting pictures.”

While being a chiropractor led to the discovery of his passion for wildlife photography, a lower back injury in high school originally led him to Chiropractic. “I was taken by my father to the family chiropractor,” Halpern says. “I remembered him telling me, ‘Roy, this is a great profession, and you should consider being a chiropractor.’” Because he was not concerned with making a lifelong career choice at 14 years old, Halpern dismissed the idea and went to college with the hope of working with animals.

When he realized that his chosen career path may not provide the standard of living he was seeking, Halpern began searching for a career to better fit his personality and lifestyle—which at the time revolved around bodybuilding and nutrition. Soon, his childhood chiropractor entered his mind. After graduating from Palmer College of Chiropractic West in 1982, Halpern started his own practice, focusing on the diversified technique and utilizing chiropractic radiographs.

While he now works part-time four days a week, Halpern aims to split his time between Chiropractic and photography. Whether it is a 10-day-long excursion or a quick weekend trip to a local destination, Halpern has learned to wait patiently for the perfect shot. “Bear photographs are my favorite, but I was very excited to get my wolf shot,” he says. “I waited for six days in the rain. I took loads of bear photos, but I wanted that wolf. They are the hardest animals to photograph because they hate people and are elusive.”

For Halpern, nature photography is all about becoming one with nature and searching for “moments of grace,” or the timeless blending of humanity into the primal, untouched wilderness. “I was concerned that taking pictures would take me away from my true goal of being one with nature, but I was wrong,” he says. “It did not separate me from nature, but allowed me to focus on the other details I was missing—things like light, color, movement and composition. I started to realize that the camera allowed me to slow down and focus on my subjects.”

Uma Mulnick, D.C.

For the past 21 years, Mulnick has been running a successful chiropractic practice, Back County Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Idaho, with her husband Irwin. While she originally planned to become a midwife, Mulnick says a voice inside her told her not to limit herself and to care for the whole body. She received her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Western States Chiropractic College, and a few years later, she and her husband opened their own general chiropractic practice, which also performs acupuncture, allergy care and sports medicine.

While healing through chiropractic care has been a major part of Mulnick’s life for the past 30 years, she recently discovered the healing power of art through mandalas. Meaning “sacred circle” in Sanskrit, mandalas are known for their meditative and healing energies due to the art form’s wholeness, which can be seen in its powerful center and symmetry.

Even though Mulnick began creating mandalas, which are colorful circles with an intricate geometric pattern, less than three years ago, art is not new to her. “As I look back through my life, I’ve always been doing something with art,” she says. During a Chopra Center retreat with her husband in September 2009, Mulnick came into contact with the work of Paul Heussenstamm, a famed mandala artist. “It touched the depths of my soul,” Mulnick recalls of her first encounter with Heussenstamm’s work. Upon hearing that he was coming to nearby Boise to teach others how to paint and create mandalas, Mulnick decided to take her first workshop.

Today, Mulnick not only creates mandalas, but she also holds monthly workshops, which typically last 10 to 12 hours in order for students to create a finished 12-by-12-inch mandala. “When I do workshops, it is very clear that I am not the teacher—the mandala is the teacher,” Mulnick says. “So for me, it works wonderfully with my chiropractic practice because it is another form of letting the patient heal.”

But creating an intricate, detailed mandala isn’t only for adults, as local fifth-grade students have been able to reap the benefits of the art of mandalas as well. Last year, as part of a program and grant through The Idaho Commission on the Arts and the Shelton Family Fund in the Idaho Community Foundation, Mulnick was given the opportunity to teach the healing power of mandalas to fifth graders at the Meadows Valley School in New Meadows, Idaho. “It was amazing to see the transformation of the kids and how they experienced the mandala’s calming effect,” Mulnick says.

Above all, Mulnick says what makes mandalas so special is their ability to not only help the artist achieve tranquility and peace, but the viewer as well. “The best thing I can say about mandalas is that they are a healing form of art,” she says. “We have them in our clinic, and people hang them in their homes or office—it is really healing. And when I paint, I am truly in a healing state of love.”

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#1. Man Has Part of Brain Removed After Stroke, Becomes Artist


At the age of 35, New Jersey man Jon Sarkin started to hear ringing in his ear. This was the type of ringing that, it turns out, could only be explained by overgrown blood vessels that require freaking brain surgery to fix.

Sarkin got his noggin cut open to fix the blood vessel, but later suffered a stroke and actually had to have part of his brain removed. All in all, it was almost the worst possible outcome for the surgery aside from death.

Or losing those awesome eyebrows.

Or at least, it would appear that way. Apparently the stroke and the brain surgery affected the “not being an artist” part of Sarkin’s brain, because after he left the hospital, the man became obsessed with drawing. Like the other people on this list, he had never shown any talent or flair for art, but became so fixated on it that he would rush off in the middle of family dinners to sketch symbols, draw objects and plain old paint for hours as ideas came to him — delicious mashed potatoes be damned!

Sinead O’Connor?

Sarkin was a chiropractor by trade, and actually returned to work, but he found no joy in savage neck twisting and back breaking anymore. He became withdrawn, and in between seeing patients, he would doodle obsessively. Then, his sister told him that if he liked drawing so dang much, he might as well make a buck or two at it. Sarkin sent a dozen drawings of weird and ghostly faces to The New Yorker, and much to his delight, the magazine bought them.

Dick Tracy?

From then on, the dude has been on an artistic roll. So much so that the doctors who examined him said his stroke has rewired his brain and given him something they dub “sudden artistic output,” a rare condition that has seen less than a handful of diagnosed cases ever (another of them being fellow Cracked listee Tommy McHugh), and which continues to mostly baffle the experts since it doesn’t really follow a specific pattern of brain injuries.

… Nixon?

Meanwhile, other national magazines such as GQ have bought Sarkin’s stuff, his paintings regularly sell for $10,000 a canvas and he’s had a book written about him. Oh, and Tom Cruise’s production company has actually bought the rights to his life story, so there’s a chance we could see Cruise himself play Jon Sarkin in a future biopic.

Read more: 6 People Who Gained Amazing Skills from Brain Injuries |

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Greb-Anand interviews Sarkin

Capture the Extraordinary

by Laura Greb-Anand

As I was listening to NPR the other morning, Jon Sarkin’s voice just completely memorized me and I knew I wanted to steal some time with him. Jon suffered a stroke in 1998 while playing golf which turned him into a completely different person. Shortly after he arrived home, he began drawing cactuses over and over again almost in a compulsive way. Since then, art had a hold of him or maybe the other way around. Jon could not stop creating, painting, drawing, doodling, you name it. Empty sketch books became the home to several ideas with not one single blank page to be found. Not only are neurologists still trying to figure out what’s causing this infatuation with art after his stroke but his art has really come to live over the years.  His work was featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ABC Primetime, This American Life, GQ, ArtNews, and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world. I’m so honored to share this  interview with you.

Check out the interview here

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“Metamorphosis” Story of the Week  1/14/2010

Some critics worry that smartphones and tablet computers will ruin our ability to focus on long form material. To fight this trend, we will have the editors of pick an essay for your weekend reading pleasure every week.

This week, editors Aaron Lammer and Max Linsky picked “Metamorphosis” by Andrew Corsello in the January 1997 issue of GQ.

Here’s why they picked it: “Had Corsello not written it so honestly, Jon Sarkin’s story would be near impossible to believe. A hard-working, creatively disinclined chiropractor, Sarkin suffered a stroke on October 20, 1988. It was the last day of his first life. In his second, which began the moment that blood vessel burst, Sarkin transformed into a massively prolific artist who had precious little in common with his previous self. An absolute classic.”

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The Awakening of Dr. Jonathan Sarkin ’71, Artist

Renee Walker, The Pingry Review
When poet and rocker Patti Smith said, “In art and dream, proceed with abandon; in life, proceed with balance and stealth,” she may have been describing the life of Jonathan Sarkin ’71. His life, artistry, and vision are a seemingly complex balance between chaos and control. Thus too are his artistic works, which he even finds challenging to verbalize before settling on a “cross between the Wall Street Journal and Captain Kangaroo.”

He draws influence from Warhol, Picasso, da Vinci, Pollock, and Dr. Seuss, whom he says, “intuitively got it, the whole deal – words and illustrations – and never looked back. The guy was very cool.” Much like Seuss’ world, Jon and his works go against the grain, what he calls a “disagreement belief,” a belief in something against the status quo or what is self-evident. His thoughts are communicated uncensored, and he speaks in riddles and codes, with metaphors and a stream of consciousness that is both fascinating and derivative. “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,” he says, quoting Danish philosopher Søeren Kierkegaard, then takes it to another level, “Dizziness is the anxiety of freedom; freedom is the dizziness of anxiety.” His whimsical wordplay is inspired by such sayings, which he often incorporates in his creations.

As far as he can remember, Jon has always had an interest in art and could often be found doodling within his thoughts and free time, but back then he was a different person. After graduating from Pingry, he decided to follow a more academic path and in 1975 got a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, master’s degree in environmental science from Rutgers University in 1977, and graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa in 1980. In 1982, he opened his own chiropractic practice and spent 14 years in the field … until one golf game changed everything.

In October 1988, after taking a few swings, Jon noticed a persistent ringing in his ear – tinnitus – and what was later diagnosed as a swollen blood vessel pressing against an acoustic nerve. After a surgical attempt to correct the problem, Jon suffered a massive stroke, underwent another medical attempt – the removal of the left side of his cerebellum – and spent two months in a semi-comatose state. After this ordeal, he was faced with a number of life-long after-effects. Jon lost his hearing in his left ear and has diplopia (double vision), slurring when speaking quickly, and a diminished sense of taste and smell. In addition, his proprioception has been greatly reduced, and his overall balance is poor. He was altered, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Jon made an attempt to return to his practice in 1990, but his attention was drawn towards creating images – painting and drawing, so in 1994, he decided to sell his practice and devoted his time to studio work. He says, “I didn’t decide to leave the medical field; the field decided to leave me.”

An awakening has taken place in Jon Sarkin, and the newness of his vision is reflected in his art – the bold use of color, subject matters, and words. He works in an obsessive-compulsive manner, as he continuously draws different versions of the Chrysler building and Cadillac tailfins using paints, pens, colored pencils, and/or ink. He describes it as a calling. “A thing that the originator of the calling gains power from, e.g., Zuni American Indian ‘fetishes’ … I get power, of an indefinably mystical transcendental quality, from these images. That’s why I’m drawn to them, am compulsively obsessed with them. They are elemental in a very literal sense.” It is a seemingly symbiotic relationship which compels Jon to spend six hours a day in his studio in Gloucester, MA, working on various projects at once. “If you count the time I spend actually working, the time I spend thinking about my work, and the time I spend dreaming about my work, my schedule is exactly 168 hours per week. This is not a joke. I am extremely agenda-driven in an ‘elliptical’ way,” he is quoted as saying.

Jon’s works have garnered lots of attention, and he thanks his sister and Vanity Fair editor, Jane Sarkin O’Connor ’77 for her assistance. Jane suggested that he submit his “doodles” to the New Yorker magazine, which loved his works and purchased a few. Since then, Jon has been featured in a number of publications, including The Star-Ledger and GQ magazine. After seeing the 1997 GQ article, Tom Cruise’s production company, Cruise-Wagner (a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures), bought the rights to his life story, with the possibility of Tom playing Jon. A screen play has already been written.

Not to be sidetracked by Hollywood, Jon continues to show and auction his works around the country, including New Jersey, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and in his hometown of Gloucester, where he resides with his unbelievably supportive wife, Kimberly and “very cool” children, Curtis David, Robin Page, and Caroline Ruth. He will also return to Pingry’s campus this fall, where his works will be displayed in the Hostetter Arts Center gallery from October 27 through November 27. “I look forward to coming back,” he says.

In a final analysis of Jon Sarkin, when asked what would he do if he had a second chance, he answers, “Everything happens for a reason…there’s no looking back.”

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Sight And Sound

Elisabeth Morse, ART News

For John Sarkin, a Massachusetts-based chiropractor, a medical mishap became fodder for creativity — and a second career as an artist. The muse came, indirectly, from tinnitus or ringing in the ear. Sarkin’s 1989 surgery for the condition resulted in a stroke and the removal of part of his cerebellum. When he recovered, he found that his eyesight and judgment had been affected. He began painting, convinced that his medical traumas had heightened his perception of color.

After GQ magazine published an article about Sarkin, actor Tom Cruise bought the rights to the story. The script is now in the early stages of development, and although Sarkin says he is flattered at the prospect of being played by Cruise, he has mixed feelings about he project: “Let’s say that someone portrayed the worst thing that ever happened to you. Wouldn’t it be a bittersweet excitement, going through all the bad parts again?

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Metamorphosis -GQ

Andrew Corsello, Gentlemen Quarterly

IN HIS FIRST LIFE, Jon Sarkin was an orderly man, controlled and controlling. Now, through the agency of a burst blood vessel, he has had an entirely new life thrust on him, a life in which nothing — especially Jon Sarkin — is the same.


“BLUE!” HE’S YELLING.” “Blue!”

The sea off Cape Ann is calm and dark, the air above it suffused with a rich, beer-colored light. Families wander lazily in and out of the restaurants and antiques shoppes along the rock pier, perusing porcelain knick-knacks and sculpted soaps. There is peace here in Rockport, an observed quiet that gives the town the mute liveliness of an aquarium.

But then, over there on the bench — that man. That bent, cross-eyed, loud, middle-aged man, clutching a cane with enough force to whiten his cuticles. With an emphatically slow, full-throated elocution broken up now and then by giggles, he goes on about how one small alteration to the physical aspect can rive a self. Heads turn, children scare. Yet still he argues — ecstatically, belligerently — rending the early-evening quiet with his raucous talk of blue.

“I lost my health. I lost my job. I lost my left ear. I lost my ability to see straight. I lost my ability to talk straight,” he rails. Then grins. “But in return, I got these…thoughts. Blue! Blue!”

He rises, teeters, points his cane toward the end of the pier, slowly moves off, zigging and zagging. He is noisy and strange, yet there is nothing about him that menaces; this man seems unprotected, without a shell.

“It’s like you’ve never known blue! Sure, you’ve been exposed to it all your life. But you haven’t had the right…uh, what’s the world?” He irons his thick mustache with the fingers of one hand.


“Receiver,” he barks, coming close enough to kiss. “It’s fallen outside your visible spectrum. And all of a sudden, you have the vision of a fly. You see blue! You see infrared! You see ultraviolet! You hear sounds outside the normal frequencies!”

Drained by his own urgency, he pauses for breath, recharges, steps closer still — he observes no personal space.

“Like a fly! How could you possibly communicate to someone else what that’s like? How could you…?”

He freezes midstride, transfixed: The asphalt at his feet has called to him. He’s constantly stopping with a considered formality before a bush, a scuffed picket, a veiny maze of cracks in an asphalt patch. Each is an exhibit. For a moment, he stands dumb, like a man passing through a powerful memory. Then he totters off toward the end of the pier. But what he’s seen has left him with a vague burden, as if he’s glimpsed through a keyhole some enormous sadness or joy or possibility that must be preserved.

What was that?

“Heh?” he says, making a gesture of irritation with the cane. “Nothing.” Nothing?

“Blue was invisible to you,” he says abruptly, putting a hand in the air to fiddle with a make-believe knob. “‘I can’t get blue!’ Get it? Get it?!”

Got it.

“Do you?” he asks edgily, stepping forward.

Yes, you got it.

“Do you?”

Got it.

“I am verbose!” he shouts, hailing the unspoken sentiment. “I babble! I interrupt! I drive people crazy! My social circle has shrunk! I’m off the grid!”

Others on the pier are watching.

“Off the grid!”

A tiny leaking vessel in the brain has done this, stripped his mind of its filters. He has no restraints and no shields; he speaks everything he thinks and, in turn, like some black hole of perception, retains everything he sees. This immediacy, this rawness, can be disquieting. One likes to think of the body as apart from the mind, to separate the ghost from the machine. His mere presence exposes that lie.

Minutes later, with his wife present, he addresses this.

“What happened with Christopher Reeve makes you think about what constitutes the self. I mean, he’s still himself. I’m still me.”

“No–no, you’re not,” she says quietly. “You’re different. You’re not who you were before.”


UNI fetishes!! small animal sculptures that 2 th believer(s) are focussed//power symbols that bring inner peace is the fetish–just like the ZUN/fetish shtich, i’ve come up w my own fetishes, e.g., CADILLAC! CHRYSLER! CACTUS!

BEFORE THE METAMORPHOSIS, when Jon Sarkin was still a chiropractor, before he became playful and mischievous for a living, before he became infused with a Promethean creativity and began making quirky art that went into galleries all over Cape Ann and in SoHo and into The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, he crafted his life carefully, put things where they belonged, controlled every aspect. When it came to his big house and his big private practice near Gloucester, Massachusetts, he was deliberate. Though not prone to self-reflection, he did have ideas about manhood — that it meant ambition, aim, security, control, strength. Once, shortly before he was married, he spoke of his career in a way that gave his future wife pause.

“Well, Jon,” she said, laughing nervously, “the family will be the most important thing.”

Sarkin looked at his fiancee.

“No, Kim,” he said.

Still, still…there was something about the way he used confidence as a means of locomotion, the squareness of his shoulders as he strode from the house, starched and white, on his way to faraway cities where practitioners waited by the hundreds to hear about chiropractic approaches to temporomandibular joint disorders. It was hard, sometimes, to be with a man incapable of downshifting, but comforting too, to be aligned with so much competitive drive.

Sarkin’s patients knew him as a man who had in his hands the power of restoration. Straightening spines and untying knots of muscle was serious business, and he approached it with an efficient certainty: There was sickness, and there was wellness, and he was the shortest distance between the two. To the bedside he brought an undistracted intensity, neither cold nor sentimental. Patients left feeling that attention had been paid, a problem corrected.

In Jon Sarkin’s memory, the afternoon of October 20, 1988, has a surreal, preserved quality, as with a shape captured within a crystal and held up to light. Everything that followed, the violence that mangled his mind and transformed him, is full of motion and speed. But the trigger moment is oddly still. He remembers the autumnal light, yellow and fatigued but still warm. He remembers the grass of the eight green, crosscut into perfect, pleasing squares. He doesn’t recall the sounds of the breeze or of distant traffic or anything his friend Hank said; as of October 20, 1988, at the age of 35, Jon Sarkin did not possess the kind of acute antennae that detect every stray transmission from the external world. Not then.

In the seconds before the incident, the world was reduced to the comforting plop and gurgle of his ball dropping into the hole. He approached, reached. Then, his hand hanging, fingers splayed — a faint wet snap, like a pea pod breaking, within the labyrinth of his left year. Sarkin pressed a palm to his temple. There was a shiver, as if a spirit had passed through him. Then he plucked the ball from the hole and moved on.


“WHERE THE ART THING comes from?” he asks slowly, repeating the question wile staring into the lemonade the waitress has just delivered. As he sips, beads gather on the bottom edge of his mustache. “Part psychological — I can’t do other things anymore, so I need this. But it’s neurological too. The way info goes in from my eyes to my brain now — totally different.”

So is this new creative capacity the result of something that was introduced, or removed?

“Removed, I think. Like there was some barrier that was destroyed, letting all this” — he gestures at his own countenance — “flood out. The governor is broken, man. Example: I’m sitting outside this cafe with a friend, and there’s a place down the street called Art Jewelers. Now I look at the place and start to laugh. I say, ‘I just had a great idea. I’m gonna take a picture of that sign: ART JEWELERS. Then I’m gonna blow it up so all it says is ART JEW. My friend looks at me, says, ‘I wonder if Jewish people look at that sign and think that.’ I say, ‘This Jew does!’ I think that’s really funny and whimsical, right? Some people will say, ‘What the fuck is this?” Hey, I don’t give a shit! Art. Jew. Get it?”


“I love that look on your face.”

It’s sort of…

“Art. Jew.” He leans in close, his left eye quivering almost indiscernibly. “Get it? Art Jew!”



BOLTFLASH #25 9/13/96
Timeism: overrated. The linearity of time, this assumption that th past is gone, th future hasn’t yet happened, and the now is all we have: only a social construct. I think this is a helluva lot more slippery…The past is now! The future is now!

Sarkin had just made his way home from the golf course when the feeling of acceleration began. The instant he sat, he began to fly, hurtling through space at impossible speeds. His body wasn’t traveling so much as lurching, leaping instantaneously between the points of a trajectory. He wasn’t in pain, per se. Still, he knew — though it would be weeks before he allowed the thought to rise to the level of awareness — that something terrible had happened to him, and that he would never be the same. When Kim Sarkin returned, she took one look at her husband’s face and, without knowing what or why, she knew, too.

Sarkin woke the next morning to discover he’d been ripped out of time, uprooted then replanted half a second behind himself. The feeling of quantum travel, now passed, had given his perceptions a parabolic weirdness; sight and sound quietly oozed one moment, then pealed the next.

Strange days followed. Without seeming louder, sound became ugly and unbearable. Still, there was no pain. An alien brand of suffering for which he had no vocabulary, yes, but no pain. And with no palpable sickness, no symptoms that fell within the spectrum of things that can happen, what was there to do but go out into the world as usual and cut a wake? Sarkin mustered his will and went back to work.

Illness often dulls the senses; a body curls up, rejecting the outside world to focus all energies inward. Yet Sarkin did not dull. Far from it. The event within his ear had a bizarre, dilating effect. With bionic sensitivity, he began to hear things, faraway things. Soon the world’s whirs, clicks, shrieks, and twangs so overwhelmed him that at the end of each day his only recourse was to sit absolutely still while his perceptions reeled and revolved. “I don’t know what’s happening to you,” his wife would say, and Sarkin, lost in the whirl of it, would say nothing in response.

On the seventh day, the screaming began: the piercing, sexless howl of a baboon, sampled and stretched to infinity. It rose quickly in volume, mutating into the seamless neon shriek of an emergency broadcast signal. The din passed effortlessly through his resolve, casting splinters of light down his spine. Once it began, it did not stop. It was with him when he woke, when he ate, when he worked, when he slept. Kim Sarkin, who had never seen her husband cry, watched in horror as he returned from work each evening, fell to the living-room floor, curled into a ball and wept. Within two weeks, he was thinking constantly of suicide. He enumerated to his wife the many different ways. He vowed that he would never put her in the position of coming home and finding him. I don’t understand, she would say. Does that mean you would do it in a way that somebody else would find you?

Sarkin was in a state of terror, yet he also found himself…loose. The screaming jostled with seams of his brain, unlocking drawers and dumping their contents — half-formed plans, shards of discarded selves, pieces of pure color and texture, lists of words that sounded alike — into the roil and flow of his thinking. Watching his mind turn itself inside out was like watching a rock star trash a penthouse suite, and with an uncharacteristic abandon that grew by the day, Sarkin let it happen. Later he would not remember what he thought during this time — only that the vocabulary of his brain, its hardware and software, its way, felt larger, and vaguely threatening.

Three weeks in, in mid-November, Sarkin’s doctors still hadn’t divined the source of his tinnitus — a generic term for ringing sounds in the ear. Sarkin waited.

Nine months passed.


BOLTFLASH #70 7/30/96
Boltflash: a noun, a verb, an exclamation. It implies, all at once, any instance of revelation or exuberant self-expression, the capricious and wrathful nature of the gods, and the proclamation “This just in!” It also refers to Sarkin’s extraordinarily voluminous oeuvre of “correspondence art.”

“YOU WANNA WRITE a story? Be prepared,” Sarkin warns when first contacted. “You’re gonna get Boltflashed, and you may not like it.”

Two days later, a manila envelope adorned on the outside with four pictures — two Cadillacs, a cactus and a desert landscape — arrives in the morning. Pasted to the inside is a piece of cardboard carved in the shape of Sarkin’s profile. The contents: ten pages of indecipherable philosophical ramblings. Another package arrives in the afternoon. Two letter and a large envelope the next day. Three packages the day after. Over the next few months, nary a day passes in which Sarkin does not Boltflash me between one and five times a day.

Each package takes up to half an hour to go through, not only because of the sheer bounty of Sarkin’s musings, poems and artwork but also because of the heavy drawing paper he uses. Before mailing, he invariably soaks the paper, wads it, then attacks it with a stapler. He then riddles the outside of the Boltflash with scores of staples before duct-taping the whole thing.

One day Sarkin happens to call as I’m dismembering a Boltflash. He wants to talk about rock and roll.

“What the hell is with the staples?” I interrupt. “Why do you do that?”

A pause, while his response gathers.

“I like to fuck with things,” he says giddily.

“Well, I just cut my finger on one of those things. My cuticle is bleeding.”

Another, longer pause.




THROUGHOUT THE FALL of 1988 and the winter, spring and summer of 1989, as Sarkin traversed the Northeast looking for someone to give his malady a name, many of his friends and virtually all of his professional peers withdrew from his life. He appeared more crazy than sick — a depressive or perhaps even a malingerer. People around him observed his prolonged moments of inertia, the way he seemed always to be staring through, and discreetly categorized him as “in crisis,” as they might a mumbling, half-naked man sprawled on a grate. They could not hear the howling, after all, nor witness Sarkin’s efforts to combat it. They could not comprehend how it deprived him of sleep at night, not how his internal exertions during the day so exhausted him that he experienced his body as a fragile husk, lighter than tumbleweed.

Not until August of 1989 did a Pittsburgh neurosurgeon named Peter Jannetta identify the siren in Sarkin’s head: A tiny, distended blood vessel was impinging upon the acoustic nerve in the left ear. Every pulse of that vessel plucked the nerve, stroking the howl. Jannetta offered not only a diagnosis but a cure — an exquisitely delicate procedure involving a hole drilled in the skull, and a tiny Teflon wafer insinuated between vessel and nerve.

“Do it,” Sarkin and his wife told the doctor. “Do it now.”

As with all surgery, Jannetta warned, there were risks. Stroke was one of them.

“It could kill me,” Sarkin said, “and it’d still be worth the risk.”

Several days before the surgery, Sarkin threw a poker game at his house. His friend Hank, who’d been with Sarkin the day he stooped to pick up his golf ball, was there. So was John Keegan, the front man for a local blues band called Madhouse. Three years before, Sarkin had begun showing up at Madhouse jam sessions with his steel guitar. Sarkin wasn’t much musically, not much at all, but Keegan liked him, and they became drinking and poker buddies. In those three years, Keegan had never failed — not once — to spank Sarkin out of major wads of cash. A hundred here, seventy-five there. It probably added up to thousands.

Not that night. That night, the very hand of the Man descended from above to usher Sarkin into the zone. Sarkin remembers laughing his way through the game. Roaring, actually. He roared his way through the hands. Roared his way throug the bluffs. Roared his way through the hits, the stays, the tequila shots. “God has looked down on this sucker who’s gonna have his friggin’ brain operated on,” Sarkin bellowed at the others, “and cut him some slack!” At the end of the night, he had to herd his winnings with both forearms. He’d won $500 off Keegan alone.

“Uh, Jon,” Keegan began.

Sarkin, who knew Keegan was good for the money, smiled at his bewildered friend and told him he had two weeks to cough up.


JANNETTA DRILLED THE HOLE and inserted the Teflon wedge the morning of August 7.

“The ringing, Jon,” Kim asked when Sarkin came to. “Is the ringing gone?” “Yup,” Sarkin mouthed. “Gone.”

And that was it, the bottom line. A day passed. Sarkin, though barely present, was pleasant. Early the next afternoon, Sarkin looked at his mother, Elaine, who was with Kim in his hospital room, patted the bed beseechingly and smiled.

“Come here, Ida,” he said.

Kim Sarkin stared. Ida, the Sarkins’ Labrador retriever, was back in Gloucester, being tended to by Jon’s indebted friend, Keegan. As she had when it all began, Kim knew.

“Something’s wrong,” she yelled, running into the hallway.

A doctor arrived.

“Feeling OK?” he asked.

“Come here, Ida,” Sarkin mumbled.

The doctor gently peeled the bandage above Sarkin’s left ear. When he saw what was beneath it, he quietly asked Sarkin’s wife and mother to step out of the room. Nobody moved. “Step out,” he repeated slowly, as if speaking to children.

The bandage had been acting as a dam, concealing a bloody postoperative event. Sarkin quickly fell into respiratory failure. Yelling, a crash cart, a priest offering to take the Sarkins’ 19-month-old son, Curtis. Elaine, whose first husband, Sarkin’s father, had died young of a freak heart attack, took on a frozen look and began mumbling “Not again.”

The doctors reentered Sarkin’s brain to stem the bleeding and stayed there through the early evening. When it was over, the leaky vessel, as well as a chunk of Sarkin’s cerebellum, had been removed. Later Jannetta came to the room where Sarkin’s family had gathered and slumped to the floor. “I don’t know what happened,” the family recalls him saying. He didn’t know if Sarkin would live, or if he did, how. Later, when the Sarkins considered suing Jannetta (who did not return calls about this story), a videotape of the operation showed that the stroke had not resulted from any “mistake.”

“When will he wake up?” someone asked.

“I don’t know,” Jannetta said. “Soon.”

Two months passed.


MUCH OF SARKIN’S ART evinces a preoccupation with the inner workings of things. His Boltflashes are peppered with disembodied organs, unidentifiable creatures whose bodies have been cleaved and cross-sectioned and labyrinthian tangles of plumbing pipes that connect only to themselves and seem to serve no purpose. And then there are the stuffed nostrils. Stuffed with sticks. Stuffed with pipes. Stuffed with ribbed, plungerlike devices that seem both asphyxiating and highly sexual. Multiple stuffed nostrils appear on the same page, at different angles, until it’s impossible to tell where gravity is. Which is up? Down? Is the nostril supine, subject to violation, or is it swallowing, encompassing? Together, the many nostrils mesmerize, adding up like pixels on a screen into a message, a mood. And that mood, constant throughout Sarkin’s Boltflashes, is a dry, raunchy, even salutatory amusement at the fact that existence is exposure, that we may at any moment be “royally fucked by the Big Guy.”

Parts dominate Sarkin’s art. His surfaces constantly call attention to their own mosaic complexions. To him the inner math of objects — the pieces that make them up, the infinite number of arrangements those pieces imply — holds more interest than their sum. Individually, the pixels in his paintings appear square shaped and robust, like plant cells under a microscope. Yet they do not fit together seamlessly. With a humming, antigrav energy, they resist one another; they resist completion. With his countless colorful bits, Sarkin conveys a feeling of phosphorescent anticipation and, with it, a sense of moment — the instant before crystallization.

In his second life, Sarkin has become a man with no interest in or use for completion. To him “finality is static and smug”; incompletion implies motion and life. Sarkin’s work represents the way he sees himself: in a perpetual state of foreplay, a state in which he is always moving toward.


IT WASN’T A COMA, not quite. More like a daze. Sarkin couldn’t speak, but when Kim would ask him to squeeze her hand if he could her her, he sometimes could and did. Mostly, he hovered between nothingness and REM, adrift in a continuous loop of half-formed images that had the weird physics of nightmares but seemed scripted by his faint awareness that things were as bad as they could be. “I was aware of nothing,” Sarkin says now, “except this obsessive nightmare where people were sticking things up my nose. Which of course they wee. It was a dream that kept getting realer and realer and realer until, finally, months later, it was.”

Before Sarkin began to ascend the long ramp to consciousness in early October, however, his body was taken apart, split from throat to groin and reassembled wholesale. There was a bleeding stress ulcer (intensive care is indeed very intense) that required emergency surgery and three bodies’ worth of transfused blood. There were staph infections, a heart attack, bacterial growth around the tubes in his lungs that led to pneumonia, a 106-degree fever. All were life threatening. Most required that Sarkin be reopened, rattled and puzzled back together again.

Though Sarkin recalls none of these violations consciously, the notion of himself as a Frankenstein seeps into most every artistic gesture he makes. The gluing, duct-taping and stapling of the Boltflash packages convey strength and security, but also the notion of having been ripped asunder and haphazardly patched together again. The contents too — the cross-sectioned humanoid heads, the plumbing-pipe mazes with their makeshift fittings and corkscrew configurations implying Band-Aid-style maintenance — constantly conjure Sarkin’s scrambled viscera.

In late September of 1989, before he could even speak, Sarkin was flown from Pittsburgh back to Massachusetts. That was where John Keegan saw his friend for the first time in more than two months. Sarkin was barely conscious, with tubes entering every hole in his body. Half his head was shaved. He weighed about 140 pounds. He looks translucent, Keegan thought.

“Hello,” Keegan said, then burst into tears. Sarkin stayed slack, his eyes moving slowly. If he’d had the energy to speak, the tracheotomy tube threaded through the slit in his throat would have prevented him.

“I’m sorry, Jon,” Keegan said, standing before his friend. “I’m so sorry.”

Sarkin’s right arm rose. Up it came, until the hand was inches from Keegan’s face. The tip of the thumb then touched the tips of the index and third fingers, rubbing them in a little circular motion — the international sign for “gimme.”

“Jon?” Keegan sobbed.

Slowly, Sarkin unfurled his hand, holding the fingers in Keegan’s face so the point wouldn’t be lost.

Five hundred dollars.

Several days later, Sarkin focused his gaze upon his wife as best he could (to this day, Sarkin has double vision; the image on the right is the mirage; the one on the left, the real deal), then pointed to the tube in his throat.

“Jon, can you talk?” Kim gasped. Sarkin nodded. Kim called for a doctor, who removed the tube. There was a thin exhalation, then a plaintive wisp of a voice.

“I can talk?”

“You can talk! You can talk, Jon! Talk to me! Talk!”

“Absolve me,” Sarkin whispered.


“Please absolve me.”

“Absolve you, Jon?”

“Absolve me of my sin,” Sarkin said, his voice trembling and wheezy. “Absolve me of my sin.”


BOLTFLASH #51 9/11/96
Because of my physical limitations, I’ve compensated for ’em by my hyper-talkin’-head-esque “gesalt,” i.e., my proclivity for bombast et prolific excess-gluttony, my mental/artistic/creative obsessive-compulsive diarrhea aesthetic. I am sure that it turns people off and that they think I’m a blowhardy jerk. They’re right.

HE STARTED AT point zero. It took weeks to teach him how to breathe and wean him from the respirator. With his diplopic gaze splitting the world in two, he had to learn how to see. Then he got to work on chewing, swallowing, speaking, sitting and walking.

Some symptoms — the speechlessness and the thought vacuum accompanying it — disappeared over weeks. Others, like the acute slurring and the vertigo, took months. (In the time before Sarkin could explain to his nurses how being forced to sit up caused him terrible dizziness, he protested whenever they tried by ripping the breathing tube from his throat. Once, in Pittsburgh, when orderlies propped him up in a heavy wooden chair with his hands and ankles strapped down, Sarkin stood — the chair attached to him — then fell forward, whacking his head against the floor. Messy stuff.) Now Sarkin is completely deaf in the left ear. His vision is blurred, his speech slow and mildly slurred. Ataxia has left him weak and uncoordinated on the left side of his body; he walks delicately, with a cane. These things will no change.

Once Sarkin returned home, he issued his first demand: Recycle. “Everything from paper to fountain pens,” Kim recalls. Problem was, the town of Gloucester didn’t recycle. No problem: Five hundred miles away, in Buffalo, where Sarkin’s older brother, Richard, lives and practices pediatric medicine, most anything can be recycled. Problem solved. Sarkin ordered his wife to send every scrap of recyclable paper, plastic and glass in their home to Richard Sarkin; Kim soon discovered it was easier to stockpile the goods in the basement in preparation for “shipping” and then discreetly dispose of them.

Other demands followed. When it came to the bathroom, Sarkin wanted nothing, nothing to do with lightbulbs. Candlelight only. He wanted to bury gold in the backyard. He told Kim to make sure there were always extra cans of gasoline handy. Jugs of springwater were to be kept in the basement, as were canisters of Sterno.

“Three things!” he announced one day.

“Progresso kidney beans! Progresso lentil soup! Progresso vegetable soup!”

“OK, Jon,” Kim said, humoring him. “Would you like a can of each?”

“Ten cases!” he snapped.

“Ten cases?”

“Of each!”

“Listen, Jon…”

“Emergency! Nuclear war!”

“Of course, Jon, but…”

The supply, most of which Kim gave away, lasted seven years.


BOLTFLASH #91 7/3/96

IS CREATIVITY A PRESENCE, a gift — or an absence, a process by which a filter is removed, freeing something common to every brain? Several neuroscientists presented with Sarkin’s case say there’s scant evidence to suggest that brain trauma can “create creativity.” (Or even selectively affect it: Though there are discrete rain centers for functions like hearing and eyesight, advanced, essentially human traits like creativity, as far as neuroscience can tell, are diffusely located all over the brain.) The changes brought on by brain injury, in fact, are almost invariably changes of diminishment. A damaged brain is not like a damaged liver: Neurons don’t regenerate; lost IQ points don’t return; stroke does not improve a skill or talent.

Still, neither Sarkin nor anyone who knows him believes there was real precedent in his first life for what he has become. He doodled and drew, but with only a fraction of the energy and imagination evident in his current work.

It took Sarkin two years — a time in which he tried to return to his life as a chiropractor, only to discover that he no longer had the fortitude or skill — to gain his bearings within the new configurations of his brain. (Like many doctors, Sarkin was insured to the gills. Added to the nest egg he had amassed through hard work and thrift in his prior life, his disability pay will provide his family in perpetuity; the income from his artwork is gravy.) The obsessiveness, the roaring urge to create, began slowly and quietly, with lizards. He had been fond of them since he was a child, and as an adult, he kept an aquarium full in his home. Now he stared them down for hours. To others it seemed the lizards served as a palliative, helping Sarkin escape the imprisoning aspects of his stroke. Sarkin was tuned out, to be sure, adrift in a kind of mental deep focus, with the muscles behind his eyes loose and at rest. But this was actually an exertion, a means of transport to a place composed entirely of the colors on the lizards’ backs and the patterns of their scales. The reptiles soon took on an almost sacramental value; they were projections, objects that gave form to the pure colors and shapes that the tinnitus and the stroke had discharged into his brain.

Soon his attraction to certain colors and color arrangements — and, more important, to the real-world objects that most closely approximated them — struck like fever. He began to fixate on cacti as well as lizards. The presence of one or both — in a room, a newspaper photo, his head — put Sarkin in what he calls “an itchy state of mind.” They called to him, distracted him, imparted to him a feeling of being on the verge of discovery. His fascination replicated itself, spawning new objects of fascination, new fetishes. The Chrysler Building, plumbing pipes and the tail fins of ’59 Cadillacs soon emerged as icons. Sarkin drew them to life, rendering their surfaces in elemental but surreal color schemes and with a veiny intricacy that implied the peeling away of skin, an anatomical inspection. Sometimes he’d paint a watercolor Cadillac fin, let it dry, then paint a cactus on top of it. Then a lizard on top of that. Then another Cadillac fin. And so on and so on, until the work resembled…his brain, with scores of mica-thin layers of sediment that evoked ancient desert civilizations razed and then buried under new, entirely different civilizations.

The filter that had previously kept Sarkin’s artistic impulses in check apparently was — and is — the same one responsible for what might be called conversational pause, the ability to give and take, to receive as well as transmit, to interact. Words and art spill out of him at a breathtaking pace. He can’t stop transmitting. He tells jokes constantly, leaping from the punch lines into their explanations without waiting for any reaction. “It’s a joke!” he says breathlessly, upon presenting one of his earlier, less…ambitious works — a sculpture consisting of large, blocky letters that spell WHITE and are painted…white. “You get it? White? That thing? White? You get it?” When I tell him that, yes, I think so, he steps close, eyes aglint — as they invariably are when he senses he’s getting under someone’s skin with a jest or a truth — and presses the point. “It’s white? It says ‘white’! White! Get it? Get it? Get it? Is that funny?”

This playful babblingness is everywhere in Sarkin’s more ambitious projects as well. Odd, colorful creatures chatter at one another. The Chrysler Building is pink. Elvis’s disembodied head pays homage to an image of Sarkin perched in a window (“The King and I”). Being around the man and his artwork, one comes away with an impression of having seen something both silly and true.


BOLTFLASH #51 9/11/96
the artistic output of th creator is merely th external manifestation of his inner conception o the universe.

“JON’S PERCEPTION IS still warped,” Kim says one night after the children (Curtis, now 9, and Robin and Caroline, 5 and 2 and both conceived after the stroke) have gone to bed. Sarkin, off in one corner of the living room, leans on his cane, eyes fixed on the floor.

“Like what happened with the kitchen,” he says, almost to himself.

“When we moved to this house a month ago, Jon thought he would ‘help’ by unpacking the kitchen for me,” Kim explains. “So while I was out, he opened all the boxes and put everything in the cabinets — randomly. A 2-year-old would have done it the same way. Scotch tape and videos with the dog and tea…”

“I’ve never seen her so upset,” Sarkin begins, looking bewildered as he explains how he unpacked the boxes onto the counter, thought, My God, what have I done? and then put everything away as quickly as possible so his wife wouldn’t “find out.”

“It’s not that I have high standards, or even that Jon has low standards,” Kim says. “He has no standards.”

“No standards,” Sarkin concurs.

“Then again, that’s what’s so fun about some of his art. His studio is totally chaotic. He’ll stumble around, accidentally step on something he’s working on and like the effect. Or the baby will drop something on his work and he’ll say, ‘Oh! That’s nice!'”

“My brain is scrambled,” Sarkin admits, his voice suddenly and uncharacteristically dark. “A lot of my work is an acknowledgment of entropy. Things fall apart.”

A rupture in the brain destroys the governor; the learned inhibitions evaporate; the man for the first time sees blue. Sarkin’s way of expressing himself in speech and painting, his way of getting from A to B to C, is chaos, the way of a dream. In his second life, Jon Sarkin floats between this plane and another — a locus most people achieve only temporarily, when “altered.” This man is not quite present, one thinks, while at the same time wondering, But isn’t that wispy, dissociative drift the very climate of creativity, the place where it lives and grows?

The artist recollects in tranquillity, a state of untroubled aloness. Color and shape emerge not from focus and strain, but from unfocus, from relaxation; the ingredients of beautiful things bubble up slowly from subconsciousness and the mind receives them. A person in such a state is impervious to the physics of the outside world. He is not aware of gravity. He is not aware of time. He is beneath the level of language. He is not sharp. He does not even really comprehend what he is doing.

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