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Art reflects artist's Alzheimer's in new Chicago exhibit

July 31, 2008 10:35:38 AM PDT
"Portraits From the Mind" is an unique collection of an artist's personal struggles with Alzheimer's, chronicling life before and after being diagnosis. Philadelphia-born artist, William Utermohlen is best known for his portraits and still-lifes.

"He was an Artist that was well known by a small circle of collectors in England and where he lived most of his life and in France. And he did a lot of portraits. He was always keen to record psychological states of other people and often himself. He did a lot of self portraits too," said Chris Boicos, a curator and gallery owner in Paris, who was also a student of Utermohlen.

Signs of Alzheimer's appeared in his work during the early 1990's.

"There's a shift in the way that he draws space and movements in space that I think is related to a shift in his perception, which might be related to the on-coming of Alzheimer's," said Boicos.

In 1995 Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Symptoms can be hard to notice early on.

"People start to withdraw perhaps from social situations where they have to remember people's names, and I think that withdrawal is the first hint that something might be happening," said Dr. Maria Carrillo, Director of The Alzheimer's Association, who did not treat Utermohlen.

As Utermohlen's condition got worse, he was unable to verbally communicate, but his art work spoke for him.

"There is frustration, there's anger, there's fear, there's terror, there's the knowledge of impending death for example, and they are very clearly visible in his portraits," said Boicos.

Utermohlen's art is a testimony to the creative human spirit that many people with Alzheimer's experience.

"These paintings actually prove that consciousness of self continues for much, much longer than we thought," said Boicos.

"He really tried to continue to capture the spirit of what he felt and so what we actually see is what we think we're observing, an actual perception, and the depth, and really a decline in perception over time that really correlates very well with the disease process," said Carrillo.

Utermohlen died in 2005. If you want to see " Portraits From the Mind: the Works of William Utermohlen - 1955 to 2000," it is on display at the Chicago Cultural Center until August 3rd. Some of his work will also be available at Rosenthal Fine Art in Chicago.

For more information, you can visit these websites

The Chicago Cultural Center
Rosenthal Fine Art
Alzheimer's Association


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