A love of straight lines
Cities are full of things Stephen Wiltshire loves, Straight lines, buildings, people, buses. And cars – the more the better. It's these things that have filled his drawings and paintings since he was a child, which have made him famous across the world.
But it's not just his ability to draw bustling streets, however. What makes him exceptional is the fact that he can reproduce a detailed cityscape after seeing it only once. 'I start by looking at the site,' he says. 'Then I copy it from my head.'
Stephen's artistic love affair with cities began at the age of seven or eight, when he began drawing London landmarks such as St Paul's Cathedral. He'd been drawing tower blocks and churches, along with tigers and elephants, since he was five. Diagnosed as autistic and attending a special school, it was drawing that provided the bridge to connect him with the rest of the world. His teachers had soon noticed and encouraged his talent. In fact, to persuade him to interact with the world around him, they even made him ask for art materials: his first word was apparently 'paper.'
Since then, he has been featured in numerous TV programmes – in 2005, for example, he was filmed flying over Tokyo in a helicopter then drawing a proportionately correct aerial view on a 10-metre-long canvas. He has since completed similar drawings of London, Rome, Madrid, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Jerusalem and Dubai. He will tackle a panorama of New York in October.
Giving a tour of his London gallery, he explains that cities have always held him in thrall. 'I like the city because it's very busy and chaotic. There's lots of information, lots of detail. There are lots of straight lines in cities,'
Classical buildings appeal to him – Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament. 'St Paul's Cathedral is a very beautiful shape.' But it's New York with its crowded streets and tall skyscrapers that is his favourite urban landscape. 'It's very beautiful: an amazing city. Tall high-rises, square avenues, yellow cabs and big cars. I like New York because it is full of traffic jams of yellow taxis,'
Stephen draws in pencil, pastel, charcoal or pen and ink – he likes Staedtler pens and Winsor & Newton pastels. But though being known for his drawings, he is also an accomplished painter. 'It's very easy to draw with a pencil or pen and ink. But I like doing some colour with cars and trees and skies.'
Some of his most striking street scenes are monochrome except for clusters of vibrant yellow New York cabs or red London buses.
People don't feature very predominately in his artworks, but he plans to include more in future pictures. He draws all the time, whether at home or on-site. 'Sometimes I draw on tube trains and buses. I might spend a day somewhere then two or three days at home. Sometimes I work from photographs,'
He constantly receives commissions to draw cityscapes, but once he has completed his huge panorama of New York, he will leave the big pictures for a while to concentrate on smaller drawings and paintings. And he wants to branch out into other subjects, such as portraiture.
'I wouldn't mind doing some portraits of people. I'd like to have a go at celebrities like Hollywood film starts and pop stars – like John Travolta.'