Stephen Wiltshire: The Sky’s the Limit
British artist, Stephen Wiltshire, has an incredible talent and is renowned for his remarkable skill of being able to draw a landscape from memory, after seeing it only once.
His exceptional ability for completing detailed drawings has received worldwide attention and at the age of just eight, he was commissioned by the former Prime Minster, Edward Heath, to create a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral. Today, Wiltshire is a revered artist, famous for drawing and painting detailed cityscapes.
He was diagnosed as being autistic as a child and art became his way of communicating with the world. He is described as an autistic savant – one of the most remarkable people on the autism spectrum – exhibiting exceptional talents that not many people have.
In 2006, he was awarded the MBE for services to the art world. His work is popular across the globe and is exhibited in a number of significant collections.
Born in London in April 1974, the artist was mute as a youngster and didn’t relate to other people. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and had no language. At the age of five, he attended Queensmill School in London. Teaching staff noticed that the only activity he enjoyed was drawing.
He communicated with the world through his wonderful drawings. Initially, he drew animals, then began to draw the famous London buses and progressed to detailed drawings of buildings.
His drawings revealed he was a natural artist and it was his love of art that eventually helped him to speak, as he would ask his school teachers for his art supplies. His first word was “paper” and by the age of nine, he was speaking fully.
Wiltshire had been fascinated with sketching landmark London buildings since the age of seven, drawing some remarkably detailed skylines from memory, even if he had seen the area only briefly.
Teaching staff at Queensmill encouraged his artistic skills and began entering his outstanding work in art competitions. He won many awards as a result and the local press became very interested in the young child prodigy who could do such amazing drawings.
They publicised the story of Stephen Wiltshire, the boy with the amazing photographic memory, sparking nationwide interest. Art lovers clamoured for his work – he sold his first drawing when he was only seven.
He featured in a TV documentary in February 1987 about savants with artistic, musical or mathematical talents. Hugh Casson, the former president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, described Wiltshire as “possibly the best child artist in Britain”.
It was Casson who introduced Wiltshire to literary agent Margaret Hewson, who helped him to publish his first book, Drawings, at the age of 13 in 1987, featuring his early sketches. Hewson looked after Wiltshire and his financial interests carefully, establishing a trust in his name, enabling his royalties and fees to be spent wisely.
She also arranged his first trip overseas to New York, where he was delighted to be sketching iconic skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building. The resulting drawings, combined with further sketches of buildings in London, Edinburgh and Paris, led to his second book, Cities, in 1989.
He studied Fine Art at the City and Guilds Art College and embarked on drawing tours of Leningrad, Venice, Moscow and Amsterdam, attracting crowds of onlookers when he stopped to draw. His latest drawings showed his talents as a draughtsman, with an ability to draw complex perspectives with ease. Published in 1991, his third book, Floating Cities, showcased his drawings from the tour.
In 1992, he toured Japan and drew various landmark buildings, such as the Tokyo metropolitan government building. He returned to travel America again and published his fourth book, American Dream, in 1993, featuring drawings of his trip.
Art lovers believe the reason his work is so different and popular is because it captures the feel of a building, including its character and voice – a mark of genius that sets him apart from many other artists.
Wiltshire’s artwork is exhibited frequently at venues around the world. The Orleans House Gallery, in Twickenham, held the first major exhibition of his work in 2003, showing his drawings from the past 20 years. The gallery’s previous attendance record was shattered when more than 40,000 visitors attended the exhibition.
In May 2005, he returned to Tokyo to make a panoramic drawing of the city – his biggest project to date. Later the same year, he drew a similar picture of Rome from memory. In December 2005, he created a 10-metre long drawing of Victoria Harbour and the surrounding urban area in Hong Kong, based entirely on seeing the area during a 20-minute helicopter trip.
He also did similar panoramic drawings of Madrid, Frankfurt, Dubai, London and Jerusalem. Further trips all over the world to Shanghai, Sydney, Brisbane, Istanbul, Singapore, Houston TX and Mexico City followed in his series of city panoramas.
His passion for skylines continuously inspires him and he has often revisited his favourite cities across the world, while exploring new destinations.
In January 2006, Wiltshire was named in the new year’s honours list by Queen Elizabeth II as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to the art world.
He founded his own art gallery in the Royal Opera Arcade in London later in 2006, assisted by his sister Annette and her husband, Zoltan.
His exhibition in Singapore in July 2014, where his panoramic drawing of the city went on display, attracted 150,000 visitors in five days, setting the highest attendance record in the country’s history. It became part of Singapore’s national collection to celebrate the nation’s 50th anniversary.
Wiltshire has revealed that his favourite cityscapes must have “chaos and order at the same time”, featuring not only the skyscrapers, avenues and squares, but also human elements, such as the chaotic rush hour, traffic jams and people.
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