Stephen Wiltshire, MBE
Stephen Wiltshire is a man with a rare talent. Born in 1974, he was a silent child, immersed in his own private world, isolated and living very largely in his imagination, and at three years of age he was diagnosed as autistic. His main preoccupation as a child was drawing.
He didn’t talk at all, until a teacher, who had noted his fascination with drawing, took away his art supplies temporarily so that he’d have to ask for them back. Eventually, he said his first word … “paper”. He was nine years old before he could speak properly.
His early drawings focused on cars and imaginary city scenes, but eventually he homed in on something that really fascinated him – architecture. When he was ten, he drew a series of pictures of London’s major buildings and landmarks, one for each letter of the alphabet. His drawings display a remarkable talent, and he does them quickly and confidently, with the assurance of a trained professional.
^ Please click on the thumbnail images for a bigger picture.
in Britain.” (Sir Hugh Casson)
The fact that Stephen can produce these amazing drawings from memory suggests that, in his case, there is a ‘persistence of image’ that most of us lack. In other words, we see something and the mental image of it starts to fade almost immediately. Oh, we can still recall the image, but if tested on the details, it would soon become obvious that we have only a vague recollection of them.
In Stephen’s case, however, the image stays, with almost crystal clarity, as though it has not just been ‘photographed’ by his mind, but printed as well, and filed away carefully for future reference.
Pont Alexandre III, Paris
Even more amazing, when you look at his cityscapes, it becomes obvious that he doesn’t just have a persistence of image, but something much more that than. He has ‘photographed’ multiple images of the city, from all angles, and has, in effect, preserved a holographic mental image of the entire thing.
Stephen has produced some amazing cityscapes drawn on very long canvases, and they can take days to complete. Even with such a huge challenge, he is able to reproduce all the buildings, roads, parks and other landmarks, as well as windows, cars, street furniture, etc., in a recognisable way, and with an astonishing grasp of perspective.
The biggest cityscape he has worked on so far was Tokyo, which he viewed from the air during a half-hour helicopter flight. Somehow, he was able to store all the information ‘in his head’ so that he could complete the picture later, over several days. The Tokyo cityscape is ten metres long! He has also produced amazingly complex and accurate drawings of London, Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Sydney, Shanghai, Brisbane and others.
Travelling round the world … and drawing it!
Stephen Wiltshire studied Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School, followed by a one-year post-graduate course. He was awarded the MBE for services to the art world in 2006. Stephen has produced several books, including Drawings (1987), Cities (1989), Floating Cities (1991) (which hit the top of The Times non-fiction best-seller list), and Stephen Wiltshire’s American Dream (1993), which recounts, in pictures, his visits to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington. The journey ended in New York, where he was fascinated by the skyscrapers, the yellow cabs, the general hustle and bustle of New York city life, and of course, the pretty girls!
Stephen Wiltshire’s amazing ‘feel’ for his artwork subjects is well observed by David Gritten, writing for the Los Angeles Times (5 February 1992):
In a review of Floating Cities for the San Francisco Chronicle (February 16, 1992), Kenneth Baker observed:
Drawing is Stephen Wiltshire’s life. It is his vocation, his calling. It’s what makes him get out of bed in the morning. It’s what makes him smile (which he does a lot!).
Commitment to excellence
If there is indeed such a thing as a ‘photographic memory’, perhaps this is the proof that has been elusive for so long. Who knows what else Stephen Wiltshire is capable of. If reading was a major interest for him, he would probably be able to read a book and remember every word, every sentence,
every punctuation mark. And if he chose to apply that astonishing power of recall to academic studies, the sky would indeed be the limit.
For now, though, Stephen is content to indulge his passion for self-expression in his drawing. And yes, it does keep him smiling! What else could a person wish for, other than a passion that drives you and absorbs you, and by which you can make a good living.