Thursday, May 17, 2012

I was delighted that I got to this tonight, a panel discussion on Alzheimer’s disease, set within the context of William Utermohlen’s art, both literally as we sat amongst his work, and figuratively, as issues that emanated from his diagnosis were discussed ( The audience was truly fortunate that the artist’s wife, Pat Utermohlen, was also there, and so generously contributed her own personal insight to the evening’s discussion.

Firstly, Sebastian Crutch, research psychologist, shared interesting, and sobering, facts and figures on Alzheimer’s disease, including the statistic that we all have a 20% chance of developing the condition in the last 5 years of our lives… The condition is common, increasingly so, and we will all be touched by it, either ourselves personally or those we care about.

He also gave us some insight into the neurological basis of the condition, for example the visual problems that define it. Thus, impairments in visual-spatial skills and difficulties seeing the whole picture that inevitably accompany Alzheimer’s disease, may potentially explain, or at least partly explain, what we see when we look at Utermohlen’s later work.

Following this, Rachael Davenhill, Director of Age Matters, focused on the depression – at least 20 -25% of sufferers – that often accompanies Alzheimer’s disease, and how the artist’s work, particularly Blue Skies and Despairing Figure, may facilitate a sharing of what Utermohlen was experiencing, an experience of suffering that seemed to be beyond words. Andrew Balfour, psychologist and psychotherapist, ended this part of the evening, sharing his clinical and research experience, particularly his work with couples affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and issues of self-awareness.

The open discussion that followed raised many questions and comments, including those on the extent to which we can interpret works of illness, particularly where we already know the background and the context, and inevitably apply that knowledge to what we see. The audience, and panel, was perhaps divided on this, but it may not matter. William Utermohlen’s work, both pre and post Alzheimer’s disease, speaks for itself, and moves us. No explanation needed.


William Utermohlen retrospective, until May 26, 2012.

GV Art

49 Chiltern Street London