A beautiful mind and the artistic talent to match
Stephen Wiltshire loves drawing houses and skyscrapers. He takes what looks like a desultory glance at a building, and can draw from memory without confusing or leaving out any details - this could be after a few minutes or up to months after the first encounter.
His prodigious memory extends to music where, like the young Mozart, he can remember every note and every chord, even part of a complex chord, after hearing the piece only once. He plays the piano and sings beautifully. In fact, he has what musicians and psychologists call the perfect pitch.
But the 31-year-old Londoner is autistic, and does not communicate easily with others. 'I do not look at Stephen in this way. I see him in a completely different way. An IQ test is irrelevant to an individual's ability,' says his older sister Annette, who helps take care of him. 'We believe Stephen has a wonderful gift which we are very proud of. Not only has it helped him to develop, but it has turned him into an extraordinary young man. So we do not believe in having anyone do tests of any kind on Stephen'.
Next week, at the invitation of shopping centres owned by the MTR Corp, Stephen will circle over Hong Kong in a helicopter. After he lands, he will sketch the cityscape detailing all the infrastructure, buildings and skyscrapers on both sides of Victoria Harbour entirely from memory on a giant one-metre by 10-metre canvas over seven day days at two shopping malls.
'‘He had demonstrated this feat of memory and artistry with New York, Tokyo, London and the Vatican. Now he will do it for Hong Kong.' And MTR Corp spokeswoman said.
A classic example of the autistic-savant, Stephen was diagnosed with autism when he was three. He was sent to a London school for children with special needs when in 1987, as a 12-year-old student, he was profiled for his artistic abilities in a BBC documentary. He has been a celebrity ever since in his native England, though it is not clear to what extent he is aware of his fame. 'We are not sure how Stephen feels himself, we think he feels special became everyone makes him feel so,' says Annette. With an art and literary agent Stephen has published several books of drawing. A 1991 book based on a collection of drawings of buildings in Venice, Amsterdam and Moscow topped the British non-fiction best sellers list.
His best drawings and sketches now command thousands of dollars. While most autistic children suffer later mental and language development, and almost all have severely underdeveloped social skills, about 10 per cent develop extraordinary gifts in a specified field usually mathematics, music or drawing. But very few have unmistakable talents in two fields, like Stephen who lives in west London with his sister and his mother, Geneva, a native of the Caribbean island of St Lucia.
It can be very difficult to communicated with him and according to his family, he either likes or dislikes you at first glance. 'We just want him to be happy to be accepted, happy and be treated as equal. [His greatest improvement] in these years has been his social skills.' says Annette. He spends a lot of time at the City and Guild Art College, where he has been for the last for years. He treats it like his workplace. Stephen will draw on a giant canvas from December 14-17 at Telford Plaza, Kowloon Bay, and December 19-20 at Maritime Square in Tsing Yi.