Lorri Berenberg Archive


Boston Globe Review

Showcasing the work of an outsider artist


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


<a href=”http://articles.boston.com/2012-01-31/arts/31008278_1_disabled-artists-outsider-artists-scrawls” target=”_blank”>Read the full review on Boston.com</a>




Open Door Gallery

Jon Sarkin: Line by Line

January 9th – March 9th 2012
Reception January 19 from 4 PM to 8 PM.  At 7 PM Jon and his biographer, Amy Ellis Nutt, will discuss the artwork and their collaboration.
Curated by Lorri Berenberg in association with Ruthann Traylor.

Jon Sarkin is a prolific, even compulsive artist who creates elaborate drawings and paintings cluttered with words and images.  His work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ABC Primetime, This American Life, GQ, ArtNews, The American Visionary Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.  After a brain hemorrhage and stroke that nearly killed him, the once-shy ambitious chiropractor awoke with an effusive, unfocused need to create.  He was a different man in body (deaf in one ear, his vision splintered, his balance permanently skewed) and in mind.

Check out the VSA website feature on Sarkin’s Gallery


On Sarkin’s work by Lorri Berenberg


Jon Sarkin: Line by Line showcases three series of works by the artist:
large-scale mixed media portraits dramatically rendered on sheets of
unstretched canvas; intimately drawn pastel portraits on board; and mixed
media drawings on canvas that burst with a combination words and images.
Often working from photographs, Sarkin¹s large portraits are richly textured
with layers of flowing lines and colors.  The results are both raw and
beautiful.  As if taking a breather from the physical and emotional energy
necessary to create these paintings, the smaller canvases reveal themselves
more like stream of consciousness.  In contrast to the portraits, these
works are crowded with names of famous artists and writers, references to
music and popular culture, and mysterious cartoon-like characters
challenging the viewer to piece together the puzzle for themselves.