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.
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.
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.