Lost perspective

Inside Alzheimer’s: Portraits of the Mind by William Utermohlen

When, in 1995, the painter William Utermohlen learned he would be losing his mind, he decided to see it off with a series of self-portraits. Utermohlen kept painting for five years, and the 19 portraits he made—in oils, watercolors and pencil—together constitute one of the most haunting accounts of Alzheimer’s disease you will ever see. Is it less horrifying, or more, to imagine that the affliction might actually unlock some creative potential? Even as his skills decayed and his anguish evidently mounted, the urgency of Utermohlen’s task never seemed to abate, and he worked his way toward something naked, blunt and beautiful. The series shows an artist coerced into abstraction, directly confessing his terror of unbecoming himself, undoing his own creative legacy. It’s cold comfort to know Utermohlen’s final, brave exercise is in fact what sealed his reputation.