I was really excited to have the chance to meet Stephen Wiltshire at his London Art Gallery. Stephen is 33 and has autism; he was born to West Indian parents in London. He was mute and at the age of three was diagnosed as autistic. The same year his father died in a motorcycle accident. At the age of four, Stephen expressed an interest in drawing and began to communicate through his drawings. Stephen slowly learnt to speak at the age of nine.
I arrived at the art gallery to be met by Stephen, who shook my hand and asked if I would like to see around his gallery. We walked slowly around each and every picture. Stephen told me how, when and where each picture had been created. I was mesmerised by his art, he is truly gifted. Each picture has an amazing amount of detail and many are drawn by memory. I particularly loved the London drawing which was in pencil with just the London buses coloured in red. Also the same in New York with the only colour being yellow cabs. I had to remind myself that Stephen was autistic, I was amazed at how well Stephen was talking to me, how calm he was and easy to be with.
After going through all his beautiful postcards we sat down to talk. Throughout the whole interview Stephen gave me 100% eye contact. These are his answers to my questions.
Polly: Do you have any memories of being young?
Stephen: I remember drawing when I was five years old, animals, cars and Lorries. But red buses are my favourite. I also remember drawing a church with people.
Polly: What do you like drawing the best?
Stephen: I like buildings the best, then people. High rise tower blocks are my favourite.
Polly: Do you like going up high rise buildings?
Stephen: Yes, I am not afraid of heights or anything. I don’t draw animals anymore they are too much work.
Polly: Do people call you to draw their favourite landmarks?
Stephen: Sometimes, I can draw anything! In America I have a four month waiting list.
Polly: Do you memorise everything you see?
Stephen: Sometimes I see everything.
Polly: If I showed you a photograph or picture, would you just be able to memorise it?
Stephen: If it’s something I like, it’s very clever.
Polly: It’s brilliant! What age did you realize you had a talent for drawing?
Stephen: I started drawing at age five. At age eight I became famous for my drawings of Big Ben and St Paul’s Cathedral. My teachers at school kept entering me for competitions, I won them all. They thought I was a cheat. The local newspaper said they were too perfect
Polly: How long can you keep these images in your mind?
Polly: Can you memorise words as well as images?
Stephen: More images than words.
Polly: Are people easy to memorise?
Polly: What do you find hard to draw?
Stephen: Panoramic drawing.
Polly: Are you sensitive to bright lights and noises?
Stephen: No, but I don’t like thunder and lightening, I am still frightened of them and I don’t like rain or horrible weather.
Polly: What do you do when there is thunder and lightening?
Stephen: Go to bed, sleep tight.
Polly: When you are not drawing, what do you do?
Stephen: I love dancing to seventies, eighties and nineties music. I listen to the top 40 when I am drawing. I don’t mind people that are out of tune.
Polly: What makes you sad?
Stephen: When I watch television and couples break up, they should stay together, I don’t like arguments. When I was at school, cross and angry boys would tease and bully me, they kicked me in the leg and were very mean. No one bullies me now.
Polly: What makes you happy?
Stephen: Listening to music and watching television. All Saints make me very happy.
Polly: What’s your favourite food?
Stephen: Roast chicken, potatoes and vegetables.
Polly: Have you always liked vegetables?
Stephen: No, not when I was young. Someone said to me when I was older eat vegetables they are good for you, so I did.
Polly: Who do you admire in this world?
Stephen: All Saints, John Travolta, Cameron Diaz, Kodak and Starsky and Hutch.