Autism is not a very beautiful word, but for Stephen Wiltshire, a London based artist, it’s what he is has and what makes his memory so beautiful. This past week, the Juliana Curran Terian Design Center Gallery was fortunate enough to have Wiltshire create a work of Art on site to be exhibited. Both Wiltshire and Pratt were featured on the CBS Morning Show every morning for the past week. Audiences, either behind a TV set or the velvet ropes in the gallery, watched in awe as Wiltshire created his reproduction of New York City from an aerial view. The completion of this piece will complete a series of nine works that include the most iIconic cities around the world. What makes Wiltshire so extraordinary is his ability to photographically recollect and reproduce cityscapes after only viewing them briefly. Artists have a gift of being able to reproduce pictures from memory, but rarely as intricate in detail and architecturally accurate after only brief observation.
As with most people with aAutism, he excelled in another one mental capacity because of a lack of another. Communication is one of the most challenging things for those with Autism, and for Wiltshire. Luckily, he was able to use his artistic ability as an outlet to express what he could not in words. As a child he communicated through drawing animals, busses, and then eventually moving to bBuildings. It’s interesting how those like Wiltshire are often creative people. For sure, creative people have a different way of thinking and looking at the world. Wiltshire’s mind is definitely unique, and has helped him be called one of the most influential artists today
The whole experience of this exhibit was inspiring. When you walk into the gallery, you are enveloped in by this a very small, white space that is filled with light up to the cathedral ceilings, because which emanates in of from the large window that this makes the entirety of the far wall. Set against a bright day and a view of Pratt’s campus was a roughly thirteen- foot curved canvas, on which Wiltshire had half his piece donedrawn. From behind the velvet ropes that surrounded the piece it looked like an almost perfect representation of the city, down to the last window in the Chrysler Building. It’s almost as if it was rendered by a machine. But on closer observation, you see that this amazing amount of detail was done by hand and in a very expressive stroke, almost like a gesture—; impressionistic even. He seemed to know where to put every stroke. You find yourself gazing at a perfect picture of planned chaos. There was no pre-planning involved, just a man whose passion for drawing was bigger than any disability. But, he is after all, an artist after all, s. So, he does take creative license at times and makes small changes in size to better his composition.
Just before the gallery closed he appeared, very quiet and humble. He smiled at all of the people that stood to admire his work, repeating polite responses that he had been taught. Perhaps he could not fully understand the comments and questions asked to him, but he could understand the smiles that graced everyone’s face. Those smiles are what keep Wiltshire creating. That’s the key to Autistic minds, understanding by visualization.
Perhaps it was the permanent child within him that allowed him to understand these happy faces as well as create the beautiful work that stood before us. His work was almost childish up close, with scribbles that formed something bigger, something that looked nothing like a scribble at all. This piece helped him discover new ways of creating his art, exploring a looser stroke. He drew with ease, moving his pen rapidly and with assurance as if he knew exactly what needed to be put down, until he finished and moved to another spot that seemed to be at random. He never once referred to notes, sketches or photographs.
When asked when he began his work, he said at five years old when he attended Queensmill Sschool in London and how much he loved it and that he hasn’t stopped since. His passion for drawing was clear. He loved to draw and that’s what he does best. Perhaps, in this case, aAutism and creativity were a match made in heaven. Which is a rare thing to say, at the very least. But out of an unfortunate circumstance, came a wonderful man and the pictures he loved to make. While Wiltshire is very high- functioning as a professional artist, he still has a disability. This disability allows him to have incredible patience and diligence with something. By the look of it, it would take a very dedicated person to be able to complete a work so ambitious. But, he doesn’t view it as work, but as a labor of love.
Watching Wiltshire was one of the most remarkable experiences. To see a man who seemed to have no future, because of his incapacity, come so far, is inspiring. He may not understand everything you say to him or be able to answer easily, b. But the emotion and movement that he puts in something that could be so static is extraordinary. There are beautiful minds that are overlooked and wasted because they lack the skill of being able to talk about it. For so many people like him, there are no opportunities to express and develop the gifts that they have. With him, it was his older sister Annette, who has since become a proud sister and travel companion for Stephen. She explained that like so many others, they told his family that he would never be able to function in society alone. Now he not only travels the world as a successful artist, but he has his own galleries and has showed the world that nothing can hold a creative mind down. She also explained that he is mostly self taught and did not have any formal training until he was quite a bit older, when he was able to get the social skills he needed to be in such a setting. Growing up with autism was challenging, but with the support of his family he was able to achieve what he has today. When asked to describe his life in a few words he said “ Keep doing what I do best… drawing.”
By Gina Capozza