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Stephen Wiltshire

Born: 1974

Occupation: Artist

Challenges overcome: Autism

Successes, Achievements & Awards:

Stephen Wiltshire was born in London in 1974, to parents of West Indian heritage. His father, Colvin was a native of Barbados, and his mother, Geneva, is a native of St. Lucia. As a child Stephen experienced delays in his development. When Stephen was about three years old, he was diagnosed as autistic. When Stephen was about five, he was enrolled at Queensmill School in West London where the teaching staff first noticed his interest in drawing. It soon became apparent he communicated with the world through the language of drawing; first animals, then London buses, and finally buildings.  One of Stephen’s teachers took a particular interest in him whilst at Queensmill School, who later accompanied his young student on drawing excursions and entered his work in children’s art competitions, many of which garnered Stephen awards. The local press became increasingly suspicious as to how a young child could produce such masterful drawings. The media interest soon turned nationwide and the 7 year old Stephen Wiltshire made his first steps to launch his lifelong career. The same year he sold his first work and by the time he turned 8, he received his first commission from late Prime Minister Edward Heath to create a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral.

At about age 10 Stephen embarked on an ambitious project called “London Alphabet,” a group of pictures depicting landmark structures in London, listed in alphabetical sequence – from Albert Hall, a famed performance venue, to the London Zoo.

In February 1987 Stephen appeared in The Foolish Wise Ones. (The show also featured savants with musical and mathematical talents.) During his segment Hugh Casson, a former president of London’s Royal Academy of Arts, referred to him as “possibly the best child artist in Britain.”
Casson introduced Stephen to Margaret Hewson, a literary agent who helped Stephen field incoming book deals and soon became a trusted mentor. She helped Stephen publish his first book, Drawings (1987), a volume of his early sketches that featured a preface by Casson. Hewson, known for her careful stewardship of her clients’ financial interests, made sure a trust was established in Stephen’s name so that his fees and royalties were used wisely. (Hewson’s obituary, published in the London Daily Telegraph (February 9, 2002), lauded her “tireless promotion of his interests” and stated that despite having several other high-profile clients, she “was perhaps best known for championing… Stephen Wiltshire.”)

Hewson arranged Stephen’s first trip abroad, to New York City, where he sketched such legendary skyscrapers as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, as part of a feature being prepared by the London-based International Television News. (He is quoted in the London Times article as saying, “I’m going to live in New York someday I’ve designed my penthouse on Park Avenue.”) While in New York Stephen met Oliver Sacks. 
Oliver Sacks was fascinated by the young artist, and the two struck up a long friendship. OliverSacks would ultimately write extensively about Stephen. The resulting illustrations from his visit  along with sketches of sites in the London Docklands, Paris, and Edinburgh which formed the basis for his second book, Cities (1989), which also included some drawings of purely imaginary metropolises.

An Anthropologist on Mars, published in 1995, brought Stephen Wiltshire to the attention of an even wider audience. His third book, Floating Cities (1991), contains the elaborate drawings he made on the tour, along with a foreword by Sacks, who wrote, “Floating Cities represents sixteen-year-old Stephen’s artistic response to a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe.

While his teachers had long known that Stephen Wiltshire liked to sing, the extent of his musical talent was not immediately apparent. Hewson told Anne Barrowclough for the London Daily Mail (September 14, 1993) that she discovered the artist’s additional skill while on the trip to Russia: “When we were in Moscow we would throw our own private concerts, usually opera, in our hotel room. One evening Stephen stood on a chair and sang Carmen from memory. He had picked it up from the television and remembered it almost perfectly.” He soon began studying with the music teacher Evelyn Preston, who identified Stephen as having perfect pitch and the rare ability to identify the pitch of an isolated musical note.
Additionally, while people with autism often do not understand or recognize human emotions, Stephen seemed able to convey the story of the music he was hearing and interpret its sentiments  an ability that fascinated psychologists. The medical community also found Stephen’s case interesting because savants rarely exhibit simultaneous skills in more than one field of learning. Linda Pring, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Goldsmith’s College, in London, spent a summer evaluating Stephen in an effort to discover a relationship between his dual talents. Linda Pring told Nigel Hawkes for the London Times (September 13, 1993), “None of our other savants has more than one talent. In the whole of the scientific literature I have found only one previous example.”

Stephen Wiltshire is  now an professional artist who draws and paints detailed cityscapes. He has a particular talent for drawing lifelike, accurate representations of cities, sometimes after having only observed them briefly. He studied Fine Art at City & Guilds Art College. His work is popular all over the world, and is held in a number of important collections. He was awarded an MBE for services to the art world in 2006. Stephen’s drawings are said to show a masterful perspective, a whimsical line, and reveal a natural innate artistry.

In 2001 he appeared in another BBC documentary, Fragments of Genius, for which he was filmed flying over London aboard a helicopter and subsequently completing a detailed and perfectly scaled aerial illustration of a four-square-mile area within three hours; his drawing included 12 historic landmarks and 200 other structures. 
In late 2003 the Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham, England, held the first major retrospective of Wiltshire’s works, spanning a period of 20 years; more than 40,000 visitors attended the exhibit, shattering the gallery’s attendance records.

Stephen took on his largest project to date in May 2005, when he returned to Tokyo to make a panoramic drawing – the largest of his career of the city. Two months later he drew a similarly detailed picture of Rome, including the Vatican and St. Peter’s Cathedral, entirely from memory.
In December, after a 20-minute helicopter ride, Stephen spent a week creating a 10-meter-long drawing of  Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour and the surrounding urban scene. (He dedicated the work as a Christmas present to the city’s residents.) Since then he added Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai,  Jerusalem and London to his collection. The last drawing in the series was of his spiritual home, New York. Further trips followed to Sydney and Shanghai in 2010.

In January 2006 it was announced that Stephen was being named by Queen Elizabeth II as a Member of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of his services to the art world. “It’s an absolute honour,” his sister, Annette, told Geoffrey Wansell for the London Daily Mail (January 3, 2006). “It brought tears to my mum’s eyes and to mine, because we’ve all worked so hard for Stephen.”  Later that year, with the encouragement of Annette and her husband, Zoltan, Stephen Wiltshire founded his own permanent art gallery in London’s Royal Opera Arcade, London’s oldest shopping arcade.  In 2011, Stephen received an Honorary Life Fellowship from the Society of Architectural Illustrators, presented by artist Ben Johnson. The gallery recently celebrated its 5th year of opening and the search for Stephen’s second premises in New York continues today.

Challenges Overcome

As a child Stephen Wiltshire did not speak and did not relate to other people. Aged three, he was diagnosed as autism. He had no language and lived entirely in his own world. Stephen Wiltshire used his artistic talent to communicate his experience of the world.

Disability Definitions

Autism

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people.  It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism.  People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence.  They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism
www.autism.org.uk
www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/autism

Download our Library List for further reading on many of the disabilities featured in this site

Information sources:

Please click on the information links below to find out more.

Online

http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk/biography.aspx
www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk
Stephen Wiltshire. (2015, May 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:46, May 13, 2015, from  http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stephen_Wiltshire&oldid=662064678
http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Stephen_Wiltshire

Books

Floating Cities: Venice, Amsterdam, Leningrad–And Moscow by Stephen Wiltshire, Oliver W Sacks (Foreword by) 1992, Summit Books  ISBN-13: 9780671755683 Hardcover, Fair

Cities. by Stephen Wiltshire  1989, J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd ISBN-13:  HYPERLINK “http://www.alibris.co.uk/search/books/isbn/9780460047807″ 9780460047807

Drawings by Stephen Wiltshire  1987, J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN-13:  HYPERLINK “http://www.alibris.co.uk/search/books/isbn/9780460047517″ 9780460047517

Stephen Wiltshire’s American Dream, by Margaret Hewson, Stephen Wiltshire (Illustrator) 1993, Michael Joseph Ltd. ISBN-13: 9780718136994

 

Image source: Wikicommons

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