During the last week of October 2016, Stephen Wiltshire flew to Mexico City. From the instant he landed, the world-renowned artist drew a crowd.
Dozens of fans and reporters (and a few thousand fans on his live-stream) came to watch him sketch a panoramic view of the Mexico City skyline. The audience watched, mouths agape, while Wiltshire, dressed in a hoodie and headphones, sketched hundreds of buildings.
He captured details like roundabouts, windows, and trees. It would be a true feat for any local, but that’s what makes Wiltshire so impressive: He’s not from Mexico City. Or even Mexico. He’s from London, and he drew all this from memory.
Since childhood, Wiltshire has used art to communicate and interact with the world around him.
He was mute as a child and diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. In elementary school, he discovered drawing and found not only a passion for it, but also a real talent.
As a kid, Wiltshire sketched animals, city buses, and buildings with great delight. When he spoke for the first time, two of his earliest words were paper and pencil.
Wiltshire’s teachers noticed how talented he was, so they encouraged his gift.
One helped him enter local art competitions. Soon, the press came to see then 7-year-old Wiltshire and his incredible talent. And before long, he was appearing on game shows and signing an art book deal. At 8, he sold his first piece and received a commission from the British prime minister. Impressive accomplishments for anyone, especially considering Wiltshire didn’t fully speak until he was 9. But Wiltshire never let the sudden fame go to his head; he was just doing what he loved.
“I enjoy it because it makes me feel happy and lots of people enjoy looking at my work,” Wiltshire said in a press brief. “It makes them smile … I feel very proud.”
Today, Wiltshire travels the world as a professional artist.
He’s been called The Human Camera because after seeing an aerial view a city for an hour or less, he’s able to complete a perfectly scaled panoramic illustration.
“I can memorize any city I like, buildings or anything really,” Wiltshire said in a press brief. “I can still remember buildings I saw when I was very young, like five or six years old.”
He’s been to Tokyo, Rome, Hong Kong, New York, Madrid, Houston, Singapore, and more to do live drawings.
For his achievement in art, the London native was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
When he’s not on the road, Wiltshire resides in London, where he opened his own permanent gallery.
“I feel proud of myself, lots of people come to visit my gallery from all over the world and buy my artwork, lots of school groups also come to visit,” Wiltshire said in a press brief. “I come to my gallery twice a week and meet people and sign my autograph.”
Wiltshire’s work would be impressive with or without his autism diagnosis.
It’s important to remember that his autism doesn’t make his talent or finished sketches any more or less incredible. And it doesn’t make him any more or less deserving of the accolades and honors he’s received either.
But it does make him human, just like the rest of us.
Yes, Wiltshire has struggled to communicate, but his grit, talent, and passion (buoyed by a supportive family) got him where he is today. And that’s something to cheer about, autism or not.