We've all heard the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words... That saying sticks with us because it is simply a very poignant fact.
Whether a photo was snapped, a realistic sketch found life on an errant napkin, or a canvas was used as a mirror... That saying remains consistent and
true throughout all mediums used. It captures a moment in time for the rest of time.
I am sharing with you a group of self portraits done by William Utermohlen in an attempt to document Alzheimer's and it's gradual theft of his
memories and in turn... his life.
Alzheimer's is very much like cancer in the sense that you would be hard pressed to name anyone that has not been touched in some way by this disease.
Most of us have had to witness it first hand with parents and grandparents alike. There is no way to adequately describe what it is like to watch
someone literally be robbed of every memory they have ever had. No way to describe what it's like when a parent no longer sees you as their child.
Words can't encompass the feelings it causes within you to witness understanding, and comprehension slowly slip out of someone's eyes until one day
you look and nobody is home.
There's no recognition there. The look of vacancy is utterly heart breaking.
In these pictures you will see how the artist's perception of himself declines further and further until his last self portraits match many advanced
Alzheimer's patient's eyes... The whole face is vacant - literally.
In 1995, U.K.-based artist William Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This is a difficult diagnosis and disease for anyone, but
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 explains perfectly 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.
This first picture was a self portrait William did in 1967. He did not have Alzheimer's at this point. He was diagnosed in 1995.
This picture is a self portrait done right after William's diagnosis titled Blue Skies.
In Blue Skies the artist bears witness to the announcement of his illness and his impending decline. The diagnosis of this psychic death,
occurring before real death, produces a deep dread. The worst is confirmed, the end is now inexorable.
What is shown in Blue Skies is a key moment and a crossroads, beyond which the framework of the self dissolves. The will to live tips over and freezes
like the studio skylight suspended above the artist in the picture. Time has stopped. Space is laid bare. Life opens to the steely blue emptiness of a
dreadful future—an obliterating hole poised above ready to suck him in.
In order not to be engulfed by the darkness, he hangs onto the table like a shipwrecked man onto his raft, or like a painter holding onto his canvas.
In order to survive, he must be able to capture this catastrophic moment; he must depict the unspeakable.
Rarely has a painting spoken so clearly of the ending of psychic life and the desperate effort to continue to exist by continuing to depict the
This self portrait was done in 1996...One year after William's initial diagnosis. It's titled Yellow and Green
To paint oneself is a way of marking continuity and the passing of time. This self-portrait attempts to fix an image of the self, to regain his
experience of being present, and to fill the ever- increasing gap that now separates the artist from his old self and his environment.
Here, Bill bears witness to his experience of living with Alzheimer’s disease and, through his work, we witness the poignant truth he shares with
us—that the world has shrunk and he peers through it, as if trapped behind prison bars.
Another portrait from 1996 simply titled Red...
It is with great anguish that Bill watches himself disappear little by little every day. The artist mourns his lost self. His look is empty of all
hope, the center of his pupil a blind spot. His reflection is coming apart and he can’t put himself back together. The double in the mirror sends
back a negative, a death-carrying image that he had hoped to escape. He has become a shadow of his old self and only the clothes floating on the
ghostly body still show the bright colors of life.
These two self portraits were done in 1997. The first is titled Saw. The second is titled Green.
In 1997, Bill learns that only at autopsy will his doctors be able to definitely diagnose his Alzheimer's disease. This notion haunts him and he
speaks of it constantly to those close to him.
Two years after his diagnosis, the self portraits are now distinctly different. Forms are more blurred. Motivation, attention, memory and visual
recognition are now disorganized and render all tasks uncertain and awkward. The artist now paints as if groping.
This portrait was done in 1998.
This self portrait was done in 1999.
Lastly we have the final self portrait Bill ever did in 2000 titled Head. It's quite haunting to look at when you know the whole story behind this
entire series of self portraits.
Five years after Bill's diagnosis, time has become no more than a sequence of instants. The head is drawn and erased at the same time - dismantled
as it is being structured. It is almost as if the artist has assimilated his drawings with his destiny. To subsist While disappearing.
It's interesting and sad to watch the decline William went through portrayed in his self portraits. It gives us a totally new way to look at this
awful disease and what may be going on inside the minds who suffer from it.
I did not include all of the descriptions of these paintings as it's against T&C's to copy and paste I everything. You can find all of the
descriptions of Bill's self portraits at this link :
I found the original article here:
edit on 8/31/2014 by Kangaruex4Ewe because: (no reason