I’ve come across this artist, William Utermohlen, who a few years’ ago bravely decided to experiment with the effect that his Alzheimer’s disease had on his ability to paint his own self portrait over a number of years. The effects are quite startling.
He was diagnosed with the disease in 1995 and after that point he painted regular self-portraits as a way to chart the way his disease was affecting his self-image and his ability to portray it. It is hard to tell whether what changed was his technical skills or his choices of method (most likely it was a combination of the two).
I suspect that his ability to paint largely remains, at least in the early years, but his interpretation of his self-image and his method changes quite dramatically.
His style becomes gradually more expressionist and abstract, perhaps as his struggle to understand his mind gets harder.
The details gradually recede and the use of colour to add expression increases.
His facial expression seems to move to anger then sadness and deep melancholy or even confusion.
After some time the colours disappear to be replaced by dark, heavy strokes and grey and black shades.
Finally, the facial features themselves merge and soften and the final effect is of an very confused mind and self-identity.
As his wife Patricia states: ‘In these pictures we see with heart-breaking intensity William’s efforts to explain his altered self, his fears and his sadness’.
‘Man With Alzheimer’s Drew Self-Portraits for 5 Years Until He Could Barely Remember His Own Face’ in The Metapicture. Available from: http://themetapicture.com/man-with-alzheimers-drew-self-portraits-for-5-years-until-he-could-barely-remember-his-own-face/ [last accessed 9 August 2014]