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  • Jimmy Broccoli

William Utermohlen - Self-Portraits

Hi All

Here is something you might find interesting.

This afternoon I'd like to introduce you to the self-portraits (1995 - 2001) of artist William Utermohlen (1933 - 2007). Utermohlen was diagnosed with dementia in 1995.

Let me back up for a moment. For those unaware, dementia is "the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities."

- The National Institute on Aging

In 1995, Utermohlen was diagnosed with dementia and, wanting to better understand the progression of the disease - and with support from his physician Dr. Martin Rosser and his nurse, Ron Issacs - he began painting self-portraits.

His self-portraits show how his artistic abilities and self-perception changed as the disease progressed. It is a very real and devastating look at dementia and how one's mind degenerates until it becomes something unrecognizable.

After no longer being able to paint, Utermohlen's final self-portrait was completed in 2001, the same year the British medical Journal, "The Lancet", published Utermohlen's powerful paintings.

I present them here. For those of us familiar with dementia/Alzheimer's, we understand the progression, but it's difficult to put the changes we see (in our loved ones) into words. When words fail, pictures often assist us with understanding.

All those involved with Utermohlen's final works desired to educate the world, so many would better understand the effects dementia has on the mind. As Utermohlen finished his self-portraits, Isaacs (his nurse) photographed them.

Due to the efforts of Utermohlen, Isaacs, and Rosser (Utermohlen's doctor), many thousands, world-wide, have a better/unique understanding of dementia.

Utermohlen's work was the main inspiration for Leyland James Kirby's (The Caretaker) musical masterpiece, "Everywhere at the End of Time" (2016 - 2019), a musical representation of the progression of dementia. It is a devastating 6 1/2 hour journey through the mind of a person as the disease very slowly takes over. In my opinion, there is no better way to understand dementia, than listening to "Everywhere at the End of Time". It has been presented on this page before.

Why am I posting this?

Some of us have a first-hand understanding of the progression and challenges of someone experiencing dementia - often a real-life observation of a loved one who struggles through the various stages. Others don't have family or friends with dementia - so educating them to the realities of the condition is important for understanding and empathy.

Utermohlen's paintings, taken as a whole, are disturbing. Kirby's music is devastating. But, together, these artistic endeavors help the world understand dementia. There is no cure, but a realistic knowledge of the disease can assist a friend or loved one better understand the daily life and mental challenges of someone important to them. A better understanding leads to patience and a more informed approach to the care of your loved one with the condition.

It is for this purpose I post Utermohlen's self-portraits here.

The artist did not paint his self-portrait for the final 6 years of his life. He was unable to.

"Everywhere at the End of Time" (all 6 stages):

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