New York Archive


Law & Water Gallery to feature Sarkin

Jon Sarkin has conjured up a series of original legal riffs for the Law & Water Gallery. From deep veins of literature, language, and history, Sarkin mined raw material into statements that are provocative, and, often, uncannily accurate.


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Located in the storefront law office of Ken Riaf  on Gloucester’s Harbor Walk, the Law & Water Gallery is open on weekends (Saturdays  12 – 5 pm) and by appointment.


Sarkin’s amazing odyssey into art is documented in Pulitzer Prize winning author Amy Nutt’s book, Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph.

Sarkin’s work has been exhibited in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Decordova, and is in private collections throughout the world.  In the Spring of 2013, he is scheduled to speak about his art and his life at Oxford University in England.

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Wine & Bowties



Jon Sarkin

In 1988, Jon Sarkin was working full-time as a chiropractor, when one day, a sharp, paralyzing pain shot through his head. In the weeks after, he suffered from a constant ringing in his ear, and from distortions in his hearing that made even soft noises intolerably loud. Soon after, a visit to the doctor would reveal the source of Sarkin’s suffering, a swollen blood vessel in his brain, which had expanded and impinged on his auditory nerve. The only remedy would be brain surgery, the results of which could range from complete success to catastrophe. When Sarkin awoke after the surgery, his head was bleeding profusely. And something else had changed.

Sarkin had suffered a stroke during surgery, and even after the initial stages of recovery– relearning speech, sitting, walking and other basic tasks– his family would come to notice sweeping changes in his personality. He was considerably less restrained in conversation, unable to filter his thoughts, less responsive to the concerns of others, and distant. As a husband and father, he simply was not the same. Despite the strain put on many of his relationships though, Sarkin soon developed a new passion of sorts. Or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a compulsion. Jon had begun to draw– quite often –and he couldn’t seem to stop.


Jon Sarkin

He began to doodle, and then to flesh out full-blown drawings, with increasing intentionality and complexity. He drew everywhere, even at the dinner table, or in the middle of conversations. Sarkin became obsessive about the drawings, producing pieces of art constantly, often without any explanation. Whatever change his brain had undergone as a result of the stroke, it had unlocked in Jon a seemingly boundless reservoir of artistic inspiration which he seemed to channel instinctively.

It was almost as if he had no say in the matter– he simply had to create. When asked about the meaning of his pieces, Sarkin seemed at a loss, unable to explain the subconscious process behind his sudden burst of creativity. Over the next decade, he began to sell drawings to various publications, and abandoned his former profession. 2003 would see Sarkin’s first solo art exhibition in New York, but certainly not his last, as he managed to rack up $20,000 in sales over the first few hours.


Jon Sarkin

Today, Sarkin is as active as ever artistically, having produced and sold thousands of drawings, mixed-media collages and other pieces. All backstory aside, the content of the work is fascinating too. Bright colors, illegible scribbles, obscure poetic phrases, names and faces of other artists and pop culture inspirations– Sarkin’s work reveals an extraordinary mind at work, a signature style that suggests the chaos of the creative process behind it. From chiropractor to fine art cult hero. I suppose you never know where life will take you. Featured here is a brief selection of Jon’s work. More from him here, and more about his story here.


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Jon Sarkin


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Jon Sarkin


Jon Sarkin


Jon Sarkin




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Jim and Cold Sweat, cos that’s what everybody in Alphabetville calls him cos every time that James Brown song Cold Sweat comes on, he goes absolutely apeshit. One time I was at a party down on Avenue C, and that song comes on and Cold Sweat, man, he got like a whirling top on fire. He starting getting crazy, breaking shit and shit, and whose party it was called the cops and they haul Cold Sweat down to Bellvue – that’s the big looney bin the got there in New York – pump his ass fulla thorazine and he’s drooling and mumbling “I break out in a cold sweat!” over and over and all, in restraining straps and shit. Shit. I wonder what he’s doing now. Jim said he moved to the Midwest, back home, to Iowa or some shit. Alphabetville ain’t the same without Cod Sweat. Shit, I miss him powerful.

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Dear Lou,

Another rainy night here in Edge City. I’m not making this up; I really *am* in Edge City, California, on the coast about ten miles or so from the Oregon border. All it ever seems to do up here is rain. I ain’t seen the sun since I don’t know when. I stole that from Johnny Cash. Why not steal from the best? Remember that time in high school when we stole your Uncle Monty’s Mercedes? “If you’re gonna steal a car,” you said, “why not steal the best?” As you can see, Lou, I’ve taken this advice to heart, lodged it permanently in that part of the cortex that we reserve for IMPORTANT LESSONS. But what good are they in this day and age, where attention is measured in nanoseconds and *American Idol *is the coin of the realm? Hell, nine out of ten Americans think that New York is in China! * * * *Truly, Jim* *

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Jim looks at what it’s come down to. He was in New York on business. He’d rather not say what it was. He had just come from his meeting when he ran into you. Don’t you remember?

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Jim wished that he could relate to what she was saying but the truth was that he was deaf to her verbal marksmanship. At least that’s what she thought about her sentences, that they constituted some kind of verbal marksmanship. Jim thought that this was a load of crap, really, and was about to tell her so when he thought better. Was this what our country had become, a nation of verbal marksmen taking aim at each other, word-sniping? If it was, well, he wasn’t going to live in such a place, No, he’d tail it where there were a hell of a lot fewer men talking that kind of shit, where the green grass procluded such tomfoolery. “God’s will!” thought Jim, to no one in particular. When he was a kid, he used to pray a lot. One time, he prayed that his dog would be turned into solid gold and then he would melt down the gold dog and feed all the hungry kids in the world. Of course, his yearning never amounted to anything and eventually he went to work in New York’s garment district. But back to her verbal jousting. Jim thought it sinful to be as verbally aggressive as she was being, offending his soul with her venomous phrases. He felt like he was being buried and burnt alive at the same time. But he had faith that she would stop and stop she did. He went outside. It was a warm Arkansas evening, one that reminded him of that night years ago when Westmoreland and he had stomachs full of wine and passed out in old man Johnson’s pasture. They’d woken up the next morning with heads that felt like lead crowns. It’s times like this that you could see old age down the road, thought Jim, as he looked up in the Arkansas sky. Tomorrow was his day off. Don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning, he told himself.

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Extended Biography

EXTENDED BIOGRAPHY:  What follows is a narrative of my life that fleshes out the skeletal details found in a “just-the-facts” resume-type bio:

*April, 1953:  I am born in Newark, NJ.  My father, Stanley, grew up in New York, the son of Russian immigrants, and became a dentist.  My mom, Elaine, was the daughter of folks who settled in Elizabeth, NJ.  We reside in Hillside, NJ.  I had an older brother, Richard, who was born in 1950, and have a younger sister, Jane, born in 1959.  My brother was a pediatrician and my sister is an editor at Vanity Fair.

*November, 1960:  JFK is elected.  This makes a big impression because it was so huge for my parents.  Truly a “new frontier.”

*November, 1963:  Kennedy is assasinated.  This makes a much, MUCH bigger impression.  The most indelible memory is watching his funeral procession on TV.  My father came home from work about the same time as this riderless black horse with empty boots placed backwards in the stirrups went by the cameras.  He started to cry.  I’d never seen him cry before.

*1964:  The Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan.  They perform “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which may be my favorite song.  The Beatles changed my life.  They really did.  I don’t think it’s necessary to explain this.

*June, 1968:  After Bobby Kennedy is shot, his funeral train, traveling from New York (his funeral was held at St. Patrick’s) to Washington goes right by my house, and my dad takes my brother and I to watch it.

*September, 1970:  I see The Grateful Dead at The Fillmore East in New York.  Jimi Hendrix died the day before, so before The Dead comes on, they put a big image of him on the screen, and blast “Foxy Lady.”  Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to explain why I’m including this.

*November, 1972:  My father dies of a heart attack at age 49.  This is by far the biggest thing that’s happened to me up til now.  When I turned 50, man, it was like falling off a cliff.

*June, 1986:  Kim and I get married.  This, and the birth of my kids, is the best thing that’s happened to me.  There’s really no contest.

*January, 1988:  Curtis is born.

*August, 1989:  I have a stroke.  I don’t know what to say about this.  I guess I should say something.

*August, 1991:  Robin is born.

*August, 1994:  Caroline is born.

*October, 2004:  My brother is killed in a plane crash.  How bad did THIS suck?

I don’t like to end on this note,  I mean, after all, my life has not sucked totally, and ending on this note sorta makes it seem that way, doesn’t it?  The whole art thing is pretty cool, don’t you think? And my kids are great.  And Kim, well, she ROCKS!

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Birdseye goes video: Local film group hits big time with Guster video work

Joann Mackenzie, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
Aug. 17–While Gloucester deliberates the future of the old Birdseye building, members of the city’s creative community have quietly recognized in its vast, raw spaces a natural artist’s habitat.

With site owner and developer Mac Bell’s blessings, they are flying under the radar of public debate, and nesting in its nooks — and now churning out nationally commissioned work.

That includes a video collaboration between filmmakers from Production Blue, the high-end film division of Gloucester’s Bait & Tackle ad agency, and local artist extraordinaire Jon Sarkin. And the video is a national-level presentation showcasing the alternative rock band Guster and commissioned by Universal New York’s Music Group.

On a brilliantly sunny afternoon, Sarkin’s dark, art-strewn studio space in an abandoned corner of the Birdseye site glowed last week with computer screens manned by an editing team from Production Blue — and lit with the faces of Guster, the three-man Massachusetts-grown band that’s built an impressive following leading to this big-label breakthrough.

Rather than transport Sarkin’s works to Production Blue’s 3,000 square feet of film-making facilities in a former sail-making space in East Gloucester, the three filmmakers had transported their equipment cross-harbor. After some six weeks in development, they were finishing a rough cut of the music video due for viewing that night in New York by Kim Garner, a senior vice president at Universal.

If the local filmmakers were a bit weary, they were also confident about their work fulfilling its goal: namely, launching Gloucester’s Production Blue into national orbit once and for all, and establishing it as an equal contender for assignments from major media platforms.

“It been a while coming,” says Chad Carlberg, who — as founder and creative force behind Gloucester’s award-winning Bait & Tackle ad agency — has been a one-man-whirlwind of digital filmmaking, with over 1,200 Gloucester-produced commercials to his directorial credit.

“Bait & Tackle has been my baby,” he says, “from tiny, small budget local spots, we’ve built a national client base offering full-service integrated multi-media product. But it’s time to leave the advertising end of things in other talented hands.”

Carlberg, who honed his digital skills on Academy Award winning films at Visionart/Sony Pictures and MVFX/Warner Bros, wants to re-focus his energies on original film projects through Production Blue, and has one locally inspired project in mind.

“This music video,” he says, “can take us where we need to be, both financially and in terms of visibility.”

The video, for the lead track — “Do You Love Me?” — on the band’s new album title “Easy Wonderful,” was originally slated by Universal’s Garner to go to a big director out of New York or Los Angeles.

“But,” says Carlberg, an old friend of Guster drummer Brian Rosenworcel, “I said, just give me a shot at a pitch.”

He got his shot and went into overdrive, wowing Garner and her Universal N.Y. team with five conceptual treatment demos, and winning out over big-name directors on both coasts.

Sarkin, who Carlberg had brought to the project to illustrate the album’s cover, ended up as an integral part of one of Carlberg’s pitch demos.

“Really,” says Carlberg, “my initial involvement in the project was just by way of recommending Sarkin to Brian for the artwork. Then, when the pitch opened up, the opportunity opened up to use him in a demo — and, you know, his art just blows ’em away.”

Maybe nowhere more so than in New York, where Sarkin’s work has taken up regular residence on the pages of The New Yorker, New York Magazine and Vanity Fair.

And so, for Team Gloucester — including co-director Sten Bowen and editor Emile Doucette — Carlberg’s concept of Sarkin actually using the video as a live-action canvas went, as they say in the film world, into “green light.”

For Guster, the challenge was surviving the paint-spattered shoot with their famously droll good humors intact. This they accomplished, getting on with their music making front stage, while rear stage, Sarkin and his mad band of white coated assistants got on with their mural making.

In the end, the mural — an explosion of retro-psychedelic color built around the Guster logo — somewhat recalls Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the band’s brand of tongue in cheekiness recalls the Beatles, and the final, fun takeaway doesn’t giveaway the tedious, post-production technical timing issues Carlberg and his team wrestle with right down to the deadline in their dark, cluttered corner of the Birdseye Building.

Carlberg, Bowen and Doucette get down to work. And according to Carlberg, the work didn’t wrap till 4 a.m.

For Production Blue, success isn’t something coming out of the blue.

Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at


To see more of the Gloucester Daily Times or to subscribe, go to

Copyright (c) 2010, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

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“How My Disability has Influenced my Work”

In 2006 Sarkin was nominated for a Wynn Newhouse Foundation award for artists with disabilities. As part of the application, he composed the below essay to describe his disability. Sarkin ended up receiving one of the runner-up prizes at the awards ceremony in New York in the spring of 2007.


There is no facet of my work that has not been profoundly impacted by my stroke. Because of this fact, any note of how my disability has influenced my art is very difficult. It is hard to describe this precisely because my disability has affected every aspect of my life so pervasively. It is extremely challenging to be objective about a thing as subjective as yourself.

Why am I unable to be reflective about how my stroke affected my work?

Our physicality and perception are how we access and negotiate and navigate our environment and surroundings.

When these were paradigmatically and physically altered, so too was my understanding of, and my relationship with, the outside world.

There exists a connection with the external world and my “internality” that is truly intimate. TRULY.

When this balance is disturbed, the resulting disequilibrium changes everything. EVERYTHING.

How this intimacy has been disquieted informs every aspect of my art. One of the things that is most apparent is its sheer abundance. I create in a fever, in a mad torrent of ideas and images. This directly relates to my inability to censor the floodgates of my imagination. Another part of my work is its stream-of-consciousness “texture.” This correlates with how my neural architecture has been scrambled by my stroke, resulting in an inability to think linearly and logically. Also, because my stroke has caused me to be obsessive, my art involves working with the same images over and over and over again. suffer from a syndrome I like to call “obsessive-compulsive-manic-depressive-creative-disorder.”

I see everything differently now. Much of this has to do with my double vision. When one’s vision is doubled, i.e., when one cannot focus on the same image with both eyes, one loses depth perception. I see objects quite differently now, and this is translated into how I draw them. My sense of color is changed, too. My perception of everything, including color and shape, and, come to think of it, sound and smell and the way things feel, has been cataclysmically and deeply altered.
This is why it’s hard to explain how my disability has influenced my work.

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Local Artist Honored For Overcoming Disability With His Art

Gloucester Daily Times

Jon Sarkin has received a great deal of attention from the media in the past year, but his strangest experience was seeing his own face on a poster stuck to a light post in New York City last weekend.

“Right on Madison Avenue, there’s this picture of my face on a poster. Then my sister wants to take a picture, so I’m standing in front of my face on a poster and all these people are standing around (looking) like, ‘What’s going on?'” Sarkin said.

Sarkin, 53, of Rockport, traveled Friday to New York to accept $2,500 as one of four runners-up for the first Wynn Newhouse Award for artists with disabilities. Sarkin paints and sketches.

Eighteen artists were nominated for the award. The winner, Chicago’s Riva Lehrer, received $50,000. Lehrer is a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has spina bifida.

“I’m flattered and validated to be acknowledged. But it’s really bittersweet, if you think about the reason I got the award,” said Sarkin, referring to the 1987 stroke that changed his life.

Previously a chiropractor, Sarkin has struggled with a variety of physical and mental ailments since the stroke. His eyesight, balance and hearing were so severely affected that he had to give up chiropractics, but the emotional disorder brought on by the brain lesions was even more difficult to resolve.

It was only through returning to his childhood interest in art that Sarkin was able to find a new purpose in his life.

“Before my stroke, art was one of many things I could do,” he said recently. “After the stroke, (art) was all I had left.”

Sarkin lives in Rockport with his wife, Kim, and their three children.

The New York poster bearing Sarkin’s image was a coincidence. Lanesville photographer Rob Amory’s work is showing at the Janos Gat Gallery on Madison Avenue and the poster with Sarkin’s picture was an advertisement for Amory’s show.

Sarkin accepted his prize Friday at a reception at the Park Avenue home of art collector Wynn Newhouse, who established the award to raise awareness of the important contributions made by artists with disabilities. Sarkin said yesterday that Newhouse is in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis.

Newhouse is the son of publishing magnate Samuel “Si” Newhouse Jr., the chairman of Conde Nast Publications.

“The people (at the reception) were all faculty at art schools, people who have Fulbright scholarships and Guggenheim (Foundation grants), and I’m realizing that I’m part of this club,” Sarkin said.

Sarkin attended the reception with his sister, Jane Sarkin, editor of Vanity Fair magazine. After the event, they walked down Madison Avenue, first stopping in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and later unexpectedly finding the poster bearing his image.

In his Gloucester studio yesterday, Sarkin sat with a canvass on his lap in his basement studio, drawing as usual.

In the past year, Sarkin’s work has been shown locally and at galleries in Los Angeles. Reader’s Digest has covered his story, a British documentary team came to Cape Ann to follow him for three days, and he was recently featured on WCVB’s “Chronicle” show.

“The good news: I can still win (the $50,000 next year.) But (Lehrer) really deserved to win it more than I did,” Sarkin said.

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