Self-portraits of an Artist with Dementia
Self-Portraits Chronicle a Descent Into Alzheimer’s
By DENISE GRADY
The New York Times
Published: October 24, 2006
When he learned in 1995 that he had Alzheimer’s disease, William Utermohlen, an American artist in London, responded in characteristic fashion.
“From that moment on, he began to try to understand it by painting himself,” said his wife, Patricia Utermohlen, a professor of art history.
Mr. Utermohlen’s self-portraits are being exhibited through Friday at the New York Academy of Medicine in Manhattan, by the Alzheimer’s Association.
The paintings starkly 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.
“The spatial sense kept slipping, and I think he knew,” Professor Utermohlen said. A psychoanalyst wrote that the paintings depicted sadness, anxiety, resignation and feelings of feebleness and shame.
Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies artistic creativity in people with brain diseases, said some patients could still produce powerful work.
“Alzheimer’s affects the right parietal lobe in particular, which is important for visualizing something internally and then putting it onto a canvas,” Dr. Miller said. “The art becomes more abstract, the images are blurrier and vague, more surrealistic. Sometimes there’s use of beautiful, subtle color.”
Mr. Utermohlen, 73, is now in a nursing home. He no longer paints.
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From the website of The New York Academy of Medicine:
Art Exhibition: The Later Works of William Utermohlen
Location: The New York Academy of Medicine, Presidents Gallery
In 1995, the artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It was then he embarked on a series of self-portraits that poignantly and powerfully depict his journey living with the disease. This exhibition showcases these later works where one can see the artist’s attempts to stay connected to the world around him while he loses the ability to communicate in other ways. His work remains a testimony to the creative and human spirit that resides in all people living with dementia. The exhibition is being hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter, and supported by Myriad Pharmaceuticals, Inc. A companion evening lecture event—Portraits & Promises in Alzheimer’s Disease—will be held on October 25, 2006.
The exhibition is free to the public and open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM from Sunday, October 22, to Friday, October 27, 2006.
For more information and to register contact Donald Morcone (212)822-7272, email@example.com
Anthony H. Risser | neuroscience | neuropsychology | brain