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 ’71
Jonathan Sarkin is a self-taught contemporary American artist.
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.