The face of decline

Screenhunter_1_8 “As Alzheimer’s stole his mind, painter William Utermohlen documented the change with self-portraits, helping neurologists to understand the disease.”

Susan Boni in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

For a year, William Utermohlen hid his fears and tried to follow his normal routine, teaching art and painting in his London studio.

But when his art historian wife, Patricia, finally got inside to see a canvas, she had an unpleasant revelation:

It was blank.

William Utermohlen had not produced a thing in all those trips to the studio. He was soon found to be suffering with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

After his diagnosis in 1996 at the age of 61, Utermohlen, a South Philadelphia native who graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, started to paint with purpose once again.

This time, the superb draftsman, who had always been able to capture the tiniest detail in his commissioned portraits, decided to paint himself.

His compelling series of 14 self-portraits, completed over a five-year period, documents a notable artist’s journey into dementia.

His art was the focus of a 2001 study in the Lancet, an international medical journal, that analyzed the changes in Utermohlen’s artistic ability.

Now, the portraits are on display at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and will be the topic of a free presentation tomorrow, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Neurology and the Visual Artist.”

More here.