By ABHAY KINI
October 30, 2017
“Before his death in 2007, Utermohlen created a heart-wrenching final series of self-portraits over a roughly 5-year period documenting the gradual decay of his mind due to this crippling disease.“
In 1995, U.K.-based artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a difficult diagnosis and disease for anyone.
However, before his death in 2007, Utermohlen created a heart-wrenching final series of self-portraits over a roughly 5-year period documenting the gradual decay of his mind due to this crippling disease.
An essay by the artist’s widow, Patricia Utermohlen, a professor of art history explains precisely why these images are so powerful; “In these pictures, we see with heart-breaking intensity William’s efforts to explain his altered self, his fears and his sadness.”
When Utermohlen first learned that he had Alzheimer’s disease in 1995, he responded in a queue with his artistic persona.
“From that moment on, he began to try to understand it by painting himself,” said Patricia.
“In these pictures we see with heart-breaking intensity William’s efforts to explain his altered self, his fears and his sadness.”
It’s hard to say whether the changes in his portraits came about due the loss of his artistic skills or due to changes in his psyche, in either case, they document the emotional turmoil of an artist watching his mind slip away from him bit by bit.
The paintings reveal the artist’s descent into dementia, as his world began to tilt, perspectives flattened and details melted away.
His wife and his doctors said he seemed aware at times that technical flaws had crept into his work, but he could not figure out how to correct them.
Dr. Bruce Miller aa neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies artistic creativity in people with brain diseases says, “Alzheimer’s affects the right parietal lobe in particular, which is important for visualizing something internally and then putting it onto a canvas.”
“The art becomes more abstract; the images are blurrier and vague, more surrealistic. Sometimes there’s use of beautiful, subtle color.”