Stephen Wiltshire draws cities from memory. Friends, family, magazine editors, art gallery curators and television executives have taken him on helicopter rides – sometimes as short as a half-hour long, without a camera – and then watched in awe as he returned to his studio to draw a city, in detail, on a blank canvas. A 33-year-old British autistic artist, Wiltshire's talents have been described as 'faultless,' 'extraordinary' and 'mysterious.' Here, he discusses cities, music, imagination, abstract art and more.
Why do you draw cities?
I have always like buildings and cities, especially high-rise buildings like the ones in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. I decided to draw when I was about 4 or 5 years old.
[FROM HIS SISTER, ANNETTE WILTSHIRE: When Stephen was about 4 years old, he witnessed a demolition of a tall building. He was so fascinated that my mum could hardly get him to continue walking home from school. Later on that day, he drew the whole landscape from memory precisely, with all the cranes and surrounding buildings. That was probably the first time when I realised he has a passion for drawing buildings.]
Stephen, can you discuss the process of drawing Rome? Please walk us through it. If you had more time, how long would you have sent on that drawing?
Up in the helicopter, I asked the pilot to fly over the Vatican City a couple of times as I really liked St. Peter's Cathedral. After landing, we went to the studio and I started to draw. I worked on the cathedral first in the middle – that was my favourite building. I had already had he whole view in my mind so I did not do sketches, just drew straight with pen. I drew it for almost three days. Drawing panoramas always takes a lot of time and it is hard work. I draw as long as it takes, and when I think it is finished, I sign and date my artwork.
if you could design your own city, what would you start with?
I have already designed my ideal city and when I was a little boy I drew my own penthouse in New York. I start with the most interesting skyscrapers, highways, flyovers, and in the end it all comes together.
You've said that you're better at drawing things you like than thing you don't like. What's your favourite city to draw? Your least favourite? What makes a city more enjoyable to draw?
My favourite city is New York. I like the chaos and the busy traffic, especially at rush hour. I prefer modern architecture, but there are always Gothic and classic buildings, which are also beautiful.
What cities do you want to draw in the future? Why?
I am going to Dubai soon and I would like to go to Australia too as I have never been there before. I am very interested in new developments and there are many new buildings being built in Dubai now. In Australia, the Sydney Opera House is one of my favourites.
You've said that you like earthquakes. Do you draw earthquakes? Do you imagine them happening? Have you seen an earthquake? If so, what was it like?
I used to draw and paint earthquakes when I was young. I liked the chaos of it and it was exciting and sad at the same time. I have never been in an earthquake.
Do you like to draw things you haven't seen? What sorts of fictional places and events have you drawn?
I have drawn imaginary cities and made-up situation but I don't like abstract or surreal things.
What makes you happy? What makes you sad? Does anything make you angry?
I like drawing a lot and listening to music that makes me very happy. I don't like couples arguing. I am never angry. I always think everything is going to be alright.