In 1995, U.K.-based American artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This is a difficult diagnosis and illness for anyone, but before his death in 2007, Utermohlen created a heart-wrenching final series of self-portraits over the stages of Alzheimer’s, which lasted roughly five years. Documenting the gradual decay of his mind, created incredibly stark drawings, which were even displayed to medical students as learning material.
Alzheimer’s symptoms not only include memory loss or dementia and personality changes but it also affects the part of the brain, which is responsible for visualizing capabilities, so crucial for a painter. With Alzheimer’s progressing, the art becomes visibly more abstract, blurrier and vague, due to the loss of the aforementioned capabilities.
An essay by the artist’s widow Patricia explains exactly 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.” 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 but, in either case, they document the emotional turmoil of an artist watching his mind slip away from him bit by bit.
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