Jon Sarkin Archive


Sarkin work for sale at Outpost 186

OUTPOST 186 is a new arts, media and performance space at 186 1/2 Hampshire Street in Inman Square, Cambridge. Outpost 186 hosts several ongoing series of experimental & improvised music performances, multi-media events, poetry readings and film, seven days a week, as well as periodic art exhibits. Open during scheduled shows or by appointment. Contact: Rob Chalfen –

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Outpost 186 Concerts & Events, September 2015

OUTPOST: 186 ½ Hampshire St., Inman Sq. Cambridge – All Shows All Ages


Outpost regularly exhibits visual art! If you are an artist and would like to exhibit @ Outpost, please send your website url to, or arrange to show your portfolio. Outpost does not charge artists to display art.

CURRENT SHOW:      JON SARKIN – Fish City Studios, Gloucester Ma.

Sarkin at Work

Jon Sarkin has been painting for over 25 years. His life and work has been featured on the BBC, in The London Guardian, The Telegraph, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Art News, and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Liverpool, and around the world.

In 1988 at the age of 35, Dr. Sarkin suddenly developed tinnitus as well as hyperacusis. In 1989, to alleviate the condition, he underwent surgery after which he incurred a cerebellar hemorrhage. Sarkin awoke from emergency surgery deaf in one ear, his vision splintered, and his balance permanently skewed. Neurologists told him his brain had been permanently changed. The neurons that were left had to make new connections and find new meaning.

Unable to maintain a semblance of his former life Sarkin became obsessed with drawing, the images kept coming, spilling out of some dark unknown place in his brain. He is unable to see the world as a whole and unable to ignore its infinite detail. He has no filters, no ability to slow things down and order the world into neat and orderly images and scenes.

His brain constantly tries to make sense of the world, as we all do, only Sarkin cannot stop. He does not want to stop. In fact, he is afraid to stop.

How does he do it when his needle is pinned forever in red? Well, first – he’s not concerned with what concerns the rest of us. His art doesn’t attempt to capture anything or tell you anything, but it does so by simply revealing what the artist experienced at the moment of creation. It’s pure and direct – holding up the roots of the thing – letting them dangle in their own dirt so you can see from where it comes.

Sarkin’s the original aboriginal searching for meaning in the Zen of repetition….but is it repetition or variation in a the guise of repetition? Are there really 46 moons in his cow? does it matter? Trust but verify? Take it on faith or do you really need to FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF
Sarkin’s art continues to rush forward from its unforeseen Big-a-Bang origin into a new and ever-expanding artistic universe. His runaway rocket ride is chronicled in Pulitzer Prize winning author Amy Nutt’s biography of Sarkin,Shadows Bright as Glass.

Jon Sarkin appears courtesy of Law & Water Gallery, Gloucester, MA

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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

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Peabody Essex Museum on Sarkin

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Cape Ann TV’s Portrait Series Features Jon Sarkin

Cape Ann TV’s Portrait Series Features Jon Sarkin

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Jon Sarkin at Law and Water

Check out Jon Sarkin’s work at Law and Water Gallery. 

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Jon Sarkin in Psychology Today

Check out the original article on Psychology Today 

Psychology Today: Here to Help

Can creative ability suddenly develop following brain damage?
Published on April 29, 2013 by Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. in Media Spotlight


Creativity and the Healing Brain

For Jon Sarkin, it began in 1988 when he suddenly began experiencing tinnitus and abnormally sensitive hearing to certain sounds.   A successful chiropractor with a practice in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, Jon’s condition was linked a blood vessel pressing on his acoustic nerve.  Because of his worsening symptoms, he agreed to a delicate operation carried out by a Pittsburgh neurosurgeon in 1989.  During the operation however, he began hemorrhaging and experienced a massive stroke that left him comatose for weeks.   Doctors removed much of the left side of his brain and he had damage to his cerebellum as well.  Despite a long rehabilitation, he was left permanently deaf in one ear with slurred speech, double vision, and an impaired sense of balance that forced him to walk with a cane.

Though he eventually returned to his practice in 1990, Sarkin found dealing with clients emotionally and physically exhausting despite frequent rest breaks.   He also spent more time “doodling” on his letterhead paper and eventually sold several doodles to the New Yorker.  After selling his practice in 1993, he decided to devote his time to drawing and caring for his three children while his wife acted as his interface with the outside world.  While his neurological symptoms never improved and despite bouts of depression, Jon Sarkin has established a reputation as an artist with his first New York art show in 2003 and a life story that has since been optioned by Tom Cruise’s movie production company.

Can artistic ability suddenly develop as a result of brain disease?   Cases of “sudden artistic output” following brain injury are relatively rare but unexpected artistic talent emerging in brain patients  has been well-documented.   While savant syndrome found in people suffering from severe learning disorders such as autism has become well-recognized through movies such as Rain Man,  acquired savant syndrome, when a new talent suddenly develops in adults following illness is still poorly understood.

Along with brain injury and stroke, cases of acquired savant syndrome have been identified following frontotemporal dementiatemporal lobe disease, and most recently, Parkinson’s Disease.   In a new review article published in Behavioral NeuroscienceRivka Inzelberg of Tel Aviv University describes a number of  cases of Parkinson’s patients suddenly developing new literary or artistic skills.

Although it is unclear whether this can be related to the actual disease or the dopamine treatment the patients received,  these cases are even more remarkable considering the severe motor problems many of them experience due to Parkinson symptoms.   While some cases involved patients who had artistic ability prior to their illness, onset of Parkinson’s Disease led to a radical change in the quality of the art they produced despite hand tremors or other problems.

According to one patient described by Susan Pinker who had been a regular painter before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, her paintings were enhanced by her illness and even felt that her dopamine medication may have played a role in improving her artistic output.  “The new style is less precise but more vibrant.” she said, adding that “I have a need to express myself more.”

In Parkinson’s patients at least, the fundamental question is whether the new creativity is linked to the disease or dopamine medications such as L-Dopa.   Too much dopamine can lead to Dopamine Dysregulation Syndrome (DDS) with symptoms such as reduced inhibition, sexual acting out, and obsessive compulsive behaviours.  That can include compulsive writing, drawing, or other creative outlets.  In many patients, these creative skills tend to rise as the dopamine levels in their brains increase and can then become reduced as their medications are cut back to curb other unwelcome symptoms.   A recent study examining the link between Parkinson’s disease and creativity suggests that this creativity is completely separate from the impulsive behaviour seen in DDS patients and not a sign of illness as some clinical researchers suggested.   This is welcome news to newly-creative Parkinson’s patients who expressed fear that cutting back on medication might eliminate their creativity.

In exploring possible reasons for increased creativity in Parkinson’s patients, Rivka Inzelberg raised several suggestions that may well apply to other cases of acquired savant syndrome in brain-injured patients as well.   Inzelberg suggests that disinhibition may hold the key to understanding this increased creativity.  Not quite the same thing as impulsivity, disinhibition involves the rejection of social norms and acting out in ways that are “riskier” than they normally would.  Often seen in manic patients, people who are less inhibited are more likely to overcome any doubts they might have about their artistic ability.  They simply write or paint for their own pleasure rather than worrying about what other people might think of their work.  Even in patients with no previous artistic ability, the wish to do something novel can lead to them experimenting with new ways of expressing themselves, often when many of their previous activities are blocked by their symptoms.

Creativity is also a useful way of coping with anxiety since it provides a patient with an outlet to accomplish something worthwhile and to gain confidence.   Many patients with temporal and frontal lobe disorders can find themselves producing new writing or artwork even when it has little importance to anyone but themselves.  One example of this is thehypergraphia found in some temporal lobe patients  involving an overwhelming urge to write.  While some noteworthy cases such as Vincent Van Gogh and Fyodor Dostoevsky are well-known, most hypergraphia sufferers produce millions of words which may never have any literary value.

While patients can be encouraged to engage in painting, drawing, writing or other creative activity as part of occupational therapy, this activity needs to be carefully monitored to make sure that these new skills improve the quality of their lives and not be taken to extremes.

Understanding how this new creative drive affects the healing brain can teach us much about the nature of creativity, whether in brain patients or in neurologically healthy individuals.   These insights may well help researcherrs learn how changes in the brain can lead to enhanced creativity, whether it takes the form of artistic, literary, or musical ability.   Understanding how new talents develop may help us explore some of the many mysteries associated with why creativity happens.

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Jon Sarkin at Law and Water Gallery August 17th.

August 17th at Law and Water Gallery with Jon Sarkin and othersScreen Shot 2013-08-09 at 1.22.38 PM

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i’ve jumped on the twitter bandwagon. follow me at your own risk. — Jon Sarkin

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Jon Sarkin at Art FInder

  • Check out full article at Art Finder.


    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.”

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Sarkin in Art Throb

What Drives Them

For some time now, we at Art*Throb have enjoyed the careers of all three artists featured in a discussion Feb. 2 at Flatrock’s Gallery  in Gloucester’s quietly funky hamlet of Lanesville.

First, one of Paul Cary Goldberg’s gritty black and white images from Gloucester’s Cafe Sicilia graced the front cover of our March issue last year. Perhaps our readers remember the portrait that resembled Robert De Niro or Sean Pean, when in fact it was a contemporary cafe regular.  In May, we featured an interview with Jon Sarkin in his messy, but productive studio across the street from the cafe. In November, we let our readers know that Ken Riaf was turning his storefront law office, an old Western Union Telegraph office up the street, into The Law and Water Gallery, featuring work from all three of them in an exhibit exploring the law and the working waterfront.

Jon Sarkin, Paul Cary Goldberg and Ken Riaf

The recent gallery talk in Lanesville brought more than 50 people on a Saturday afternoon to the light and airy space to hear what drives the three artists to create. Their show Driven is on view through Feb. 24.

A word about the new gallery. Owners Cynthia Roth and Anne Marie Crotty say their mission is to carry forth the long tradition of Lanesville — located at the northernmost tip of Gloucester — as home to “a cadre of nationally known painters, illustrators and sculptors who were also an integral part of the community” since the late 19th century.

The gallery aims to showcase “contemporary art, younger artists on the cusp of discovery and the finest of Cape Ann’s old masters.” Also home to a florist, two jewelers, three photographers and two antiquarian book dealers, Flatrocks is a hub of activity surrounded by nature.

A word about the three featured artists. Goldberg produces still lifes, often compared to the work of Dutch master painters. I followed him around the Gloucester waterfront at night more than ten years ago, while he used available harsh floodlighting to capture the rusted underbellies of boats. For this show, Goldberg, a therapist, is exhibiting a meditative, intimate body of work called Etudes. The series could not be more opposite from his ongoing Cafe Sicilia series, a vibrant study of the Italian community in Gloucester right in their social gathering place.

In Etudes, using old bottles and goose eggs found on a farm he has also been photographing, Goldberg has created a blue, watery world that makes one think of life’s beginnings, of fertility and tenuous quiet. As a child, he wrote poetry and found the egg a recurring theme. In his artist statement, he said perhaps he makes art “in an effort to understand, contend with, push back at and counterweight all the sorrow and fury of life.” Or, he says, “Maybe it’s just for the love of it, or for the love others give to me on account of it.”

“Etude #1” by Paul Cary Goldberg

Those who know Sarkin, know his story. An early in life stroke rearranged the way he sees the world and compelled him to make art. Sarkin will be speaking at Oxford University in March about the relationship between brain damage and creativity. Today, the internationally renowned artist works in mixed media at a frenetic pace. This is partly, he says, because the death of his brother in a plane crash forced him to face mortality and work even harder. “I only have so much time on the planet. I’ve got to make my move here,” the angular and intense Sarkin said to the rapt crowd. Sarkin’s work tends to examine the same image over and over. He spoke last week of Caravaggio’s David, a recurring theme. He explained being struck by the look on David’s face as he held the head of Goliath. “He was just taking care of business,” he said, much like each of these men in the show.

Moonlight Serenade by Jon Sarkin

Many at the talk wanted Ken Riaf to discuss the way film influences his small scale assemblages, which literally contain the legal, the political, the environmental and the romantic. In addition to being an attorney who has focused on anti-poverty work and fisheries policy, Riaf has been a commercial fisherman and longshoreman, is an adjunct professor at Endicott College and produced with Gloucester filmmaker Henry Ferrini, Polis Is This about poet Charles Olson.

Riaf’s boxes feature little found objects and small plastic people in cinematic scenes that can be construed differently when examined from multiple angles. Familiar Gloucester scenes that loom large in the mind of locals are captured here in the miniscule. Backlit scenes feature a man and woman standing on beach stones in a parting pose in On the Rocks while Professional Courtesy gives us three suits in an underwater scene with massive (it’s all relative) sharks swimming nearby.

By Ken Riaf

Riaf insists there are not many artists — perhaps Joseph Cornell, a constant comparison — who must spend their lives thinking INSIDE the box. Just as the scale of his work is small, to the point are the words that accompany them: Gimme, gonna and ‘Bro Can You Spare a Dime. This patois comes “from all over,” Riaf says, from “The Bahamas, the cit-hey… the watery part of the world, and from the corner — as my pal sez  ‘I didn’t hang out at the corner, I’m from the corner.’”

As the evening sky turned an azure blue, matching the hue of Goldberg’s photographs, the audience, comprising many of Gloucester’s most recognizable characters, artists and musicians, posed thoughtful questions to each of the three. They inquired about the compulsion to create, the inner critic, outer critics, inspiration, vulnerability and process.

Finally, a woman asked what it’s like to create in a community that really appreciates art. And most in the room knew the answer.

Dinah Cardin is founder of North Shore Art*Throb.

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