Vanity Fair 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.

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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.


Featured on Artaissance

Jon Sarkin is a prolific artist who creates elaborate drawings and paintings filled with words and images, and has a story like no other. After a brain hemorrhage and a stroke that nearly killed him, the once-shy ambitious chiropractor awoke with an effusive, unfocused need to create. He awoke a different man in body and spirit with an insatiable drive to draw and paint. His drive to create has produced an imaginative body of art.
Jon’s unique story has been featured on NPR, the BBC, ABC Medical Mysteries, in Vanity Fair and The Guardian, in addition to other coverage. He has also created cover art for the band Guster, and was the subject of a book by Pulitzer Prize winning author Amy Nutt.
Jon’s studio is located in Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Check out the feature Artaissance page


Vanity Fair: Writers Reading

Amy Ellis Nutt Reads from “Shadows Bright as Glass”

by: Lenora Jane Estes

After a slight and inexplicable shift in his brain during a golf game in 1988, chiropractor Jon Sarkin (brother to Vanity Fair’s Features Editor, Jane Sarkin) experienced a life-altering sequence of events—

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From the “You’re,” not “Your” Blog



JON SARKIN: make the art

Inspired by GMG

Jon Sarkin is one of the most interesting people I have ever encountered. And it just so happens that we each call Gloucester “home.” His impressive resume includes two, substantial Vanity Fair articles, staring in this Pulitzer finalist NJ Star Ledger story, and having sold pieces of his work to private collections held by, among others, icons Diane von Furstenburg and Annie Leibovitz. This, of course, fails to mention exhibits across the U.S. or placement in influential arenas like MOMA. Or how Tom Cruise bought the rights to his life story. Jon’s accolades go on and on… It’s wonderful and exciting for us. But it’s just life for him. Life post-trauma.

This past Fall, I had the opportunity to visit his now-empty Birds Eye studio on The Fort. The property itself — an abandoned factory on the harbor — is stunning. Not “stunning” so as to imply a pristine, novel, or grandeur sense of the word. But stunning in so far as the space was open, simple, and aged. Stunning as in perhaps perfect for Sarkin, right down to doorbell note. (He has since moved to a Main Street location.)

During a brief visit, Jon and I did not speak about his art; he rather chose to ignore the stacks of canvas and paper strewn about, one more impressive than the other. Instead, we dabbled in the niceties of small talk. The Velvet Underground. Local restaurants and sandwich shops. Carpentry. Of course, as it always will, the adult-go-to, “what do you do?” came up. Shrugging, visibly embarrassed by then empty attempts at both retail and for-sale art stuffs, it became painfully apparent that I didn’t want to talk about it.

Faced with what could have been yet another spoke-too-soon hole in which I dug and promptly laid, Jon was amazing. He said that one of the most important parts of life is respecting boundaries. I had set mine. He wasn’t going to try and sneak around it, duck under it, or trick me away from it. After sharing a few of his lines-were-crossed stories, he clapped his hands as if to wipe them clean of the trivial matter and — just like that — we moved on. I was touched by his approach. Bewildered by how the thing I should do and the thing I was doing, in all of it’s simplicity, was the same. Eloquent yet elementary. Letting go.

Discovery Science Channel aired this piece on Jon in December. Certainly worth the 20-odd minutes. I will say that he was much warmer in my meeting than he appears in this video. Though the buckets of chalks, paints, and crayons, and those boat shoes are very much real. In the best of ways.

One of Jon’s most recent endeavors involved Guster’s music video for “Do You Love Me.” A wonderful concept, executed in part by local advertising heroes, Bait and Tackle. Apparently, iTunes felt the same. The video’s success has lead to a  line of Sarkin-inspired merchandise, a re-skinning of the band’s MySpace page, and a fun new cover on the deluxe edition of the appropriately titled, Easy Wonderful.

I believe there is a lot of happiness to be had, through wisdom and acceptance, in the world of Jon Sarkin. I really, really do.


Vanity Fair: Guster enlists artist Jon Sarkin for Easy Wonderful Album Cover

September 14, 2010, 11:30 AM

It’s been four years since we last heard from Boston feel-good rockers Guster, whose sixth LP,Easy Wonderful, hits shelves October 5. The quintet recruited artist Jon Sarkin to design everything for Easy Wonderful,from the album cover and merchandise, to the guitar straps they use onstage. Sarkin, who is the older brother of V.F.’s features editor Jane Sarkin, created the whimsical album art, crediting Guster’s upbeat music as the inspiration for the color wheel. “Doing the album art is a lot like advertising,” Jon Sarkin told us yesterday. “You want to convey visually what the music is all about.”

The album art is a combination of four cover ideas that the Gloucester-based artist designed that were then photoshopped together by the band’s artistic director. “I’m really happy with what he did” Sarkin said. “He really got my sense and didn’t have a heavy hand at all.”

The guys in Guster have been Sarkin fans for years, and drummer Brian Rosenworcel even has a few pieces of Sarkin’s in his home. So it was no coincidence that Sarkin and Guster meshed so well. So well, in fact, that the quintet asked him to collaborate on the music video for their first single, “Do You Love Me,” where Sarkin painted lead singer Ryan Miller—putting a beautiful coda on his work for Easy Wonderful.

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Check out Guster’s website specifically for the release of Easy Wonderful, featuring oodles of Sarkin’s work:


An Oscar Story In The Making: The Life Story Tom Cruise Just Had To Have

An Oscar Story In The Making: The Life Story Tom Cruise Just Had To Have

Peter Sheridan, New York Post

LOS ANGELES — When Jon Sarkin walks down that red Oscar carpet tonight, no one will notice him amid the crush of stars. After the ceremony, at the Vanity Fair party – the holy grail of celebrity bashes – Sarkin will be ignored by parapazzi and fans.

But just wait a couple of years, and all of Hollywood could be at his feet. Such is the power of a truly gripping life story.

So amazing is that story, in fact, that Tom Cruise bought the rights to it. Hot on the heels of such torn-from-the-headlines films as “Erin Brockovich,” “The Hurricane,” “The Insider” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” Cruise hopes that the 46-year-old Sarkin’s epic ordeal will bring him the Best Actor Oscar he craves.

And Sarkin agrees. Ten years ago, the New Jersey-born doctor nearly died from a brain aneurysm, and had part of his brain cut away by surgeons battling to save his life.

He emerged a shattered man – but one with amazing visual perception. His brain seemed virtually rewired, experiencing sounds and colors with such intensity it was as if he physically felt them. “It’s like being on a hallucinogenic drug the entire time,” Sarkin explains. “Everything is more vivid, more deeply felt.”

Seeing the world through new eyes, Sarkin turned to painting as therapy – and to his amazement, was acclaimed as an artist. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, GQ and The New York Times magazines and in one-man shows at galleries across America. Ultimately his art caught the eye of Tom Cruise, who snapped up his life story 18 months ago.

Last week, Sarkin toured the Paramount studio in Hollywood, visiting Cruise’s production company to check on the progress of his film. And tonight he’ll be rubbing shoulder pads with Cruise at the Vanity Fair party. “It’s exciting and surreal,” says the bearded artist. “This is like a dream.”

Sarkin’s transformation began as a nightmare on a golf course near his home in Rockport, Mass. “I bent over to pick up a ball when my head felt like it was exploding. I thought, ‘I’m going to die. NOW.'”

“Apparently a swollen blood vessel had come into contact with a nerve affecting my hearing and vision. Everything I saw was bizarre…I had a screaming in my ear like the sexless piercing shriek of a baboon.”

Doctors advised brain surgery to separate Sarkin’s damaged nerve from the blood vessel – but the operation went horribly wrong.

“I had a stroke and died on the operating table,” says Sarkin, hazel eyes unblinding, his rumbling baritone devoid of self-pity. “They took out part of my brain to save me.”

He was in a coma for two months, after which he had to relearn how to breathe, walk, talk and eat. “After three months I left the hospital a different person. I underwent a cataclysmic change.”

“It was as if the surgeons had removed some filter in my brain that normally stops you being overwhelmed with visual information. Suddenly I was experiencing colors emotionally as if I was I was on hallucinogenic drugs. I was physically feeling what I saw.”

“I viewed the world through new, alien, and sometimes frightening eyes.” His career as a successful chiropractor was over. “Before the incident I was a hard-working, driven professional,” Sarkin recalls.

“Afterwards my vision was messed up, and the stroke left my speech slurred, and my left arm weak. I can’t pick my kids up, or run, or drive a car. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t work anymore.”

Disability insurance guaranteed that Sarkin’s wife and their three children would never have to worry about money.

But Sarkin struggled with his transformation, and with his desire to make a new life for himself. Doctors urged him to take up art as therapy.

“I never thought I’d make any money from art, let alone be successful at it,” he says. “I just couldn’t think what else to do.”

Sarkin’s art vibrates with color and passion. There’s also a distinctly bizarre view of the world running through all he creates. At times he’s like a visiting Martian making ironic observations on the alien planet Earth.

While his “outsider” paintings win him respect, living with the otherworldly Sarkin is not easy for his wife, Kim.

“It’s been difficult, but it’s an experience I cherish,” she says. “The serious side of him is gone, which I miss. But he’s happier now than he’s ever been, and has the freedom to explore his art.”

Sarkin admits: “It’s been hard for her. At times she found it very difficult living with me, and most wives would have bailed. But she didn’t, and I’m very grateful. We have a stronger marriage as a result.”

With all its ups and downs, Sarkin believes his life offers a role that Tom cruise could revel in.

“He’s a great actor, and he could really go to town with my story,” Sarkin says. “But Tom – if you really want to find out what it’s like inside my head, better fasten your seat belt, man, because you’re in for a rough ride.”

Sarkin is unconcerned that Hollywood might reinvent his story – an accusation leveled against such recent films as “The Hurricane” – or may exploit him, as many felt “Shine” exploited the tormented Australian pianist David Helfgott.

“What can Tom Cruise do?” laughs Sarkin. “Kill me? I’ve been there already. I died on the operating table. A near-death experience gives you great perspective. Let him exploit me. But honestly – I think he’ll do a great job.”