Rewriting Life

Dementia: The Self-Portraits of William Utermohlen

When he learned in 1995 that he had Alzheimer’s disease, William Utermohlen, an American artist living in London, immediately began work on an ambitious series of self-portraits.

About the art work: When he learned in 1995 that he had Alzheimer’s disease, William Utermohlen, an American artist living in London, immediately began work on an ambitious series of self-portraits. The artist pursued this project over an eight-year period, adapting his style to the growing limitations of his perception and motor skills and creating images that powerfully documented his experience of his illness. The resulting body of work serves as a unique artistic, medical, and personal record of one man’s struggle with dementia.

Slideshow:

Blue Skies, 1995, oil on canvas, 152x122cm

The first self-portrait completed after William Utermohlen’s diagnosis shows a man whose world has become untethered. The artist clings to a table as if to anchor himself within a flattened, featureless space.

Slideshow:

Self-Portrait with Easel (Yellow and Green), 1996, oil on canvas, 46x35cm

Slideshow:

Self-Portrait (Red), 1996, mixed media on paper, 46.5x33cm

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Self-Portrait with Saw, 1997, oil on canvas, 35.5x45.5cm

In 1997, the artist learned that his doctors would be unable to definitively diagnose his disease until autopsy. The saw depicted here is an open allusion to this fact.

Slideshow:

Self-Portrait (with Easel), 1998, oil on canvas, 35.5x25cm

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Erased Self-Portrait, oil on canvas, 45.5x35.5cm

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Head I, 2000, pencil on paper, 40.5x33 cm

Return to the main feature, “The Dementia Plague” by Stephen S. Hall.

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