GLOUCESTER – When Ruthann Taylor heard about Gloucester resident Jon Sarkin’s story of becoming an artist, she called him up on a whim. 

“I called him out of the blue and told him that I would like to see his artwork,” Taylor said, explaining that she was taken aback by the artist’s story and what he was able to create. 

That phone call was just the beginning. 

For the next 12 years, Taylor and Sarkin would work together in a variety of capacities to show Sarkin’s work and share his story. 

“I love the story that goes behind the art and how he became the artist,” Taylor said. “He is a phenomenal artist.”

On Jan. 4, Sarkin’s work will be joined by pieces from artists Jennifer Levine and Kenneth J. Lewis Sr. as part of the Art Council of Princeton’s three-person exhibit titled “Inside Out... When Worlds Collide,” which focuses on artists that found their gift later in life. 

“The show addresses the power of self-taught artistic talent and the drive of the human spirit to create,” Taylor said, who is co-curator of the exhibit with Colette Royals. 

“We felt like we wanted to bring some artists together that became artists later in their life,” she said. 

Neither Sarkin, Levine, nor Lewis could have ever anticipated the life of an artist that they currently live. 

At the age of 40, Levine began to paint while she was going through a divorce. Taking time to reflect on his marriage of 24 years, Lewis discovered a spiritual relationship and deep sensitivity with his work at the age of 47. 

For Sarkin, who has three children with his wife, Kim, it was a stroke at the age of 35. 

In 1988, Sarkin underwent surgery after he had developed ringing in his ears and an over sensitivity to certain frequencies. After surgery, the then-chiropractor developed a cerebellar hemorrhage that led to a stroke.

This caused a rare neurological effect called “sudden artistic output.”

“The stroke made art my top priority in life,” Sarkin said. “It made it more important than just about anything.”

Sarkin, in previous interviews, explained that the lasting physical effects of the stroke made it impossible to return to work as a chiropractor, but his rekindled childhood interest in art was one thing he could do. 

Since then, Sarkin has created thousands of pieces of art. He defines his work as “frenetic, bouncy, a stream of consciousness, a short-attention span.”

Having the opportunity to present his work and share his story in his home state of New Jersey “is nice,” Sarkin said. “There is something that is universal about being told that you did a good job. You wrote a good story, you took a good photograph, you spelled ‘cat’ right, you made a good meal, or you got the kind of flowers I like. You can’t go wrong with saying to someone, ‘You did a good job.’”

In addition to the 100 pieces that will be displayed at the Art Council’s Taplin Gallery, Sarkin is constantly working on something at Fish City Studio of 39 Main St. in Gloucester.

“I’m working on a lot of things,” Sarkin explained, grabbing a stack of cardboard vinyl cases that once held iconic songs from musicians such as Pat Benatar.

On one side of every 12-by-12 cardboard case was a drawing. Some were done with sharpie while others were raised with paints and glue, some had phrases and names while others had entire poems written along the side, and one had the word “God” written over and over again until there was no more space to fill. 

“My goal, I guess, is to get people to laugh,” Sarkin said.

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@northofboston.com

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