William Charles UtermohlenADDPMP640
An American figurative artist born in 1933 who became known posthumously for his self-portraits created after his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
During the creation of the Conversation pieces (1989–1991), based on his early memories, Utermohlen started to experience memory loss. In August 1995, at the age of 61, Utermohlen was diagnosed with AD. He was sent to the Queen’s Square Hospital in London where a nurse asked him to start drawing self-portraits. The first of these, Blue Skies, is a self-portrait of Utermohlen gripping a yellow table. A year later, he created Self Portrait (In the Studio), which includes the screaming mouth a common motif in Francis Bacon’s work.
As Alzheimer’s began to affect his work, his self-portraits became increasingly unrecognizable, as His Self Portrait with Saw (1997) or Erased Self Portrait (1999), his last attempt at a self-portrait using a paint brush, which took him nearly two years to complete.
The last self-portraits from 2000–2001 consist of just a head. “Head I” (2000) consists of a head with eyes, a mouth and a smudge on the left that appears to be an ear. The rest of the portraits were of a blank head, one of them erased. In a 2001 interview, he said that he created the self-portrait in an attempt to try and understand “what was happening to him in the only way he can”.
William Utermohlen died on March 21, 2007 at the age of 73. Since then, his self-portraits have been displayed in several exhibitions in Chicago and London and were also the inspiration for the 2019 short film Mémorable by Bruno Collet.