Monday, August 4, 2008
In 1995, American artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. In an interview, Utermohlen's wife commented, “From that moment on, he began to try to understand it by painting himself.” He began a series of self-portraits that demonstrate not only the physical effects of the dementia on his brain, but also how he saw himself through the eyes of his illness.
The first self-portrait was done in 1967, while he was healthy. The other three were done after his diagnosis.
As his disease progresses, you can see how his artwork has less fine details. The lines are more blurred. In the second photo, Utermohlen's face is greyed, maybe showing what he felt was going on in his mind. Like there is a shadow cast over his face.
Later in his disease, his image becomes more and more distorted and abstract. His images also become more flat. They definitely lack the depth seen in the first.
In the third, he seems to focus on certain facial attributes, like his ear and nose. His eyes seem to be more prominent than in the second. His brow seems furrowed. The background looks almost architectural. Maybe attempting to create a space?
In the last painting, there are very few recognizable features left. The entire image is very abstract. His nose and ear are still somewhat prominent. His eyes are absent or distorted. His mouth is barely penciled in.
Per the New York Times article, William Utermohlen no longer paints. As of the time of the article, he was living in a nursing home. An exhibit of his art has been on tour around the world entitled ‘Inside Alzheimer’s: Portraits of the Mind'.