The artistic savant


London City Skyline, 2006, by Stephen Wiltshire

The neurologist Oliver Sacks, who devotes a chapter to Wiltshire in his 1995 book An Anthropologist on Mars, describes first meeting the autistic artist in a short article from the New York Times:

When I first met Stephen in 1988, I was intrigued by the silent, withdrawn boy, who was clearly autistic. He seemed without much language until he put pen to paper.

And then there were these wonderful drawings, prodigious in powers of memory and detail, beautiful in draftsmanship, full of humor, vitality and charm, so that one felt a complete personality and artist there inside the autistic shell.

The drawings are realistic and accurate to an extraordinary degree. After seeing the Empire State Building, he did a sketch with the right number of floors. Though I don’t think he can count to 102, he saw the hundred and two-ness.

Update: In the comments, Alvaro links to this film clip of Wiltshire drawing Rome from memory after flying over the city in a helicopter.

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