“These words I write keep me from total madness”

“These words I write keep me from total madness”, a quote from Bukowski, is what first came to mind when I read about Jon Sarkin. Although his is surely a visual version of these words (of course the writer put it better than any artist could).

Sarkin was a chiropractor, who after fighting with a jarring noise in his head for months, went to a neurosurgeon who discovered a vein was touched up against his auditory nerve, and during surgery to correct it, he had a stroke, which completely changed his personality.

“Thinking things through – whether getting dressed or reading the newspaper – was almost impossible. Instead, his mind rambled, so nothing was ever finished: his hair was half-combed, conversations were left hanging. The most unsettling part for Sarkin was the sense that there were no filters, no chance for his brain to slow everything down and order the world into meaningful images and scenes”*

He was withdrawn and sullen, but started to make art, compulsivley as a way to digest and emotionally work through his life, “set loose from the constraints of normal reasoning, Sarkin’s brain refocused on the random details of life, mixing memory and emotion, then distilling his experiences into words and images,”* to the point where he would leave the dinner table, to go draw something that had popped into his head, frustrating his wife and children, who didn’t understand this new impulsive need to create.

He obsessively made these drawings for years, created through doodlings and fragments of thoughts and favourite quotes, eventually submiting them to the New Yorker, which bought them up, which turned into illustrations into other magazines and galleries.

I came across him in a Guardian article, really an except from a book soon to be published, Shadows Bright As Glass, by Amy Ellis Nutt, that tells of his journey from his life as chiropractor to one of an artist. In the book he mentions “he felt as if it was one giant scam, that he was taking money merely for doing something he couldn’t help but do. Over the next six years, his talent deepened, his art became more expansive and his success widened. Always, the urge to create consumed him.”*

He had to create, there was no other way. I want to say as if there was no choice, but, as a creator myself, I know there is no choice. I have to create, its a way I deal with emotions, unspoken/ unthought words, how I bring all that I need to emotionally deal with on a daily basis to the surface and look them in the eye, before tossing them away. I could throw away everything I’ve ever made away, quite easily, as its always been more about the process than the result. When I make images regularly I am better at dealing with other people and their nonsense, I process my emotions better and I stop self evaluating and analyzing everything around me. Image making becomes emotional digestive system, a way to let the steam out before the pressure explodes.

Ellis Nutt mentions Jon’s stroke making his become sullen, withdrawn, and self-absorbed, which made me wonder whether being self-absorption was a component that came along with the desire to create and being self absorbed assisted his drawings or whether creating them felt like his only way to turn outwards towards the universe.

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Louise Bourgeois, another favourite artist, said “It is a great privilege to be able to work with, and I suppose work off, my feelings through sculpture,” as if her art was medicine, the cure contained within the disease. Again, something, she couldn’t help but do, but “a guarantee of sanity”.

*from Shadows Bright As Glass, by Amy Ellis Nutt, taken from the except at Guardian.co.uk


His website is online, but to be honest, feels like it got whipped up to support the book and/or press he’s been getting. It has the feel of a news/blog rather than a genuine artists’ website- and involves too many clicks to actually read anything substantial.  Although the fact that there is more poetry than art on the homepage is kind of interesting.  All of which involve the mysterious Jim- an alter ego perhaps- that doesn’t seem to be talked about (poetry or Jim) in any of the articles to do with the book. I’m also not sure I would define it as poetry, short writings maybe, but intriguing, they are.

all images are taken from his website


Louise Bourgeois


About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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