Stephen Wiltshire

Stephen Wiltshire, MBE

Stephen Wiltshire

Stephen Wiltshire drawing Sydney, and clearly loving every minute of it!

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.

Photographic memory

Park Avenue, New York by Stephen Wiltshire

Park Avenue, New York

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.

“His sense of perspective seems to be faultless … I have never seen, in all my competition drawing, such a talent, such natural and extraordinary talent that this child seems to have … [Stephen] is possibly the best child artist
in Britain.” (Sir Hugh Casson)
View of Westminster Bridge in summer by Stephen Wiltshire

Westminster Bridge

And yet perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that Stephen can do his drawings from memory! He literally stands and looks at a building, walks around it, gets the feel of it, then goes to work at his desk. Is this ‘photographic memory’ at work? Virtually every detail of the subject building is reproduced with amazing accuracy. How he is able to store such a huge amount of information about a subject, and retrieve it faultlessly, is a mystery.

The Liver Building, Liverpool by Stephen Wiltshire

The Liver Building, Liverpool

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.

Westminster Abbey by Stephen Wiltshire

Westminster Abbey

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 by Stephen Wiltshire

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.

Cityscapes

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.

Tokyo cityscape, drawn by Stephen Wiltshire

Stephen Wiltshire busy working on his Tokyo cityscape

The Flat Iron Building, New York, by Stephen Wiltshire

The Flat Iron Building, New York

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!

Sydney Opera House and skyline by Stephen Wiltshire

Sydney Opera House

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):

” … illustrates Stephen Wiltshire’s ability to capture not only a building’s detail; he has an innate sense of perspective and also can convey the mood a building evokes. Thus, his Kremlin Palace in Moscow looks forbidding and imposing; his St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square with its multicolored cluster of onion domes, seems to spring from a fantasy.”

Floating Cities

In a review of Floating Cities for the San Francisco Chronicle (February 16, 1992), Kenneth Baker observed:

“The accuracy of proportion and perspective in Stephen Wiltshire’s ink drawings – not to mention their detail – is amazing. For all their busyness, Stephen Wiltshire’s drawings are not snarled with obsessive rhythms. He obviously takes pleasure in what he can see and record, and his technique, though consistent, is admirably adapted to specific subjects … Whatever barriers to conventional life Wiltshire’s condition [has] put in his path, his eye and hand are enviably open channels.”
St Paul's, in the Blitz by Stephen Wiltshire

St Paul’s, in the Blitz

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!).

But he doesn’t just draw occasionally, for a bit of fun. He has produced so many stunning artworks that he has his own website (www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk), and his own gallery (5 Royal Opera Arcade, Pall Mall, St James’s, London). He has become a successful entrepreneur through his passion for drawing and his commitment to producing artworks of great beauty, detail and excellence.

Commitment to excellence

Manhattan skyline, from the Intercontinental Hotel, by Stephen Wiltshire

Manhattan skyline, from the Intercontinental Hotel

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.

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