This is a little bit Sunday Evening Art Gallery post, a little Humoring the Goddess post. You’ll see what I mean.
I am a sucker for those “10 Things You Didn’t Know About …..” Most of them are flops, but every now and then I come across something that is extraordinary.
In 1995, U.K.-based American artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Before his death, Utermohlen created a heart-wrenching final series of self-portraits over the stages of Alzheimer’s, which lasted roughly five years.
The last self-portraits, painted between 1995 and 2001, are unique artistic, medical, and psychological documents. They portray a man doomed yet fighting to preserve his identity and his place in the world in the face of an implacable disease encroaching on his mind and senses.
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.
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.”
Apart from portraits, still lives and drawings from the model, Utermohlen’s art can be arranged in six clear thematic cycles: The “Mythological” paintings of 1962-63; the “Cantos” of 1965-1966 inspired by Dante’s Inferno; the “Mummers” cycle of 1969-1970 depicting characters from South Philadelphia’s New Year’s Day parade; the “War” series of 1972 alluding to the Vietnam war; the “Nudes” of 1973-74; and finally the “Conversation Pieces”, the great decorative interiors with figures, of 1989-1991.
William Utermohlen died March 21, 2007. The mere thought that this artist tried to paint his being through the very end of his Alzheimer’s pays tribute to the creative soul in each one of us.