Artist recreates cityscape
The world's most famous autistic artist sat quietly with a pad of paper yesterday and sketched Maple Leaf Gardens in less than an hour.
Stephen Wiltshire, who is visiting Toronto from London, England, actually started a little late because he wanted to take photos of other buildings with his disposable camera, so he could draw more Canadian illustrations back home.
'The CN Tower is my favourite,' he explained. 'I've never been here before.'
Mr. Wiltshire, 25, is in town to take part in a show called Celebrating the Creativity Within, which features the work of four well known autistic artists. It is sponsored by the Geneva Centre for Autism. Owners of the Maple Leaf Gardens herd Mr. Wiltshire was going to be in Toronto and commissioned him to immortalize the building on paper. The 68-year-old hockey shrine is up for sale and may be demolished.
Mr. Wiltshire is known for his ability to reproduce on paper the most complex architectural structures. He can draw whole cityscapes after a quick glance.
Yesterday, he immediately sat down and started sketching. He smiled and chatted as he shaded in rows of tiny windows and seemed oblivious to the traffic and staring passersby as he produced a highly detailed drawing.
'I like having fun drawing.' he said. 'I see something and it goes in my head and I remember it and then I draw it. Maybe a double decker bus, maybe Canary Wharf, maybe a Cadillac.
Mr. Wiltshire became a sensation at the age of 13 after the airing of a BBC documentary about his work. His artistic talent prompted architect Sir Hugh Casson to herald him as 'the best child artist in Britain.' Not long after he was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, his father was killed in a motorcycle accident. For a long time, he would not talk and would throw tantrums if anyone tried to touch him. At age four he was sent to a special-needs school where, despite being mute, he began to draw.
His art has opened up a channel of communication, his agent and mentor, Margaret Hewson, said yesterday.
'It has given him huge confidence, a means of expression,' she said. 'His drawing gives him enormous pleasure and awareness of himself.'
Wearing a black leather jacket and a black tuque yesterday, Mr. Wiltshire shook hands and easily talked about his drawings.
When he was 19, he found out he had a parallel musical talent – he has perfect pitch, and has become a natural performer. His favourite songs are Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel and Tom Jones' It's Not Unusual. 'I just love that one,' he said, singing a few bars.
Since the BBC documentary, he has published four books of his works and finished a degree course in drawing and painting at City and Guilds London Art School. He is the first graduate with autism. He is now a full-time artist, selling works such as the Maple Leaf Gardens piece for about $2,500.
But Mr. Wiltshire, who lives with his mother and sister in London, has limitations. If the conversation jumps to more than one topic, he quickly becomes confused. He doesn't understand the concept of money. He has never been able to form proper relationships. If you ask him who his friends are, he will give the names of characters on television.
He also loves American cars. 'But I like pop music, too, like the Backstreet Boys,' he added. 'He lives very completely in his head,' said Ms. Hewson. 'We try to bring him out.'