The Life Of The Autistic Savant who Draws Cities From Memory

Facts About Stephen You Probably Didn’t Know

  • Stephen began speaking clearly when he was nine years old, the first words he uttered were paper and pencil (much like Picasso).
  • He creates more portraits of people than of buildings. He confines these compositions, nevertheless, to his personal sketchbook.
  • Even with Stephen’s incredible memory, he got lost in Manhattan and wandered for 45 minutes before finding his way.
  • He has never married
  • Stephen Wiltshire can sketch from memory in minute detail for hours on end.

Early Life

On April 24, 1974, Stephen was born to West Indian parents in London, United Kingdom. He was mute as a child and had trouble interacting with others. He was given the diagnosis of autism at age three. He spoke no language and was totally alone in his own universe. His father passed away in a motorcycle accident that same year.

Stephen was sent to Queensmill School in London when he was five years old, when it was discovered that his only hobby was drawing.

His earliest drawings featured animals and automobiles; he continues to have a deep passion for and extensive understanding of American automobiles. Around the age of seven, Wiltshire developed a passion for drawing famous London structures.

His lack of verbal communication skills was tackled by the teachers at Queensmill School by momentarily taking away his art tools so that he would be made to learn to ask for them. Stephen made noises in response before saying “paper” which was the first word he ever said.

Wiltshire’s teachers supported his painting, and with their help, he was able to talk clearly at the age of nine.

As a child drawing was his only hobby

Stephen’s talent was soon recognized by those outside the school, and at the age of eight, he received his first contract for a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral for the late Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Stephen’s Early Career Days

Wiltshire can take one look at a thing and then depict it in precise and comprehensive detail. From memory, he frequently recreates entire cities based on a single, quick helicopter journey. For instance, during a helicopter flight over London, he created a comprehensive picture of the city’s four square miles.

Stephen made an appearance in The Foolish Wise Ones in February 1987. (The show also showcased savants with aptitudes in music and mathematics.) Former Royal Academy of Arts president Hugh Casson described him as “perhaps the best child artist in Britain” at the time.

After taking a helicopter trip over the city of Tokyo in May 2005, Wiltshire completed his largest-ever panoramic memory drawing on a 32.8-foot-long (10.0 m) canvas within seven days. Since then, he has painted huge canvases with drawings of cities including Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem, London, and Hong Kong. Wiltshire meticulously sketched his helicopter journey over Rome, even down to the number of columns in the Pantheon.

Stephen’s detailed drawing of Tokyo,2005

In appreciation of his contributions to the art world, Stephen was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in January 2006.

Recognition Of His Artwork

ABC News awarded him Person of the Week on February 15, 2008.

He served as the Children’s Art Day ambassador in the UK in July 2009.


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