Autistic Artist Draws With Photographic Memory

Britain's Stephen Wiltshire can draw for hours with exact detail from memory.

ByABC News via logo
February 13, 2008, 10:41 AM

Feb. 13, 2008 — -- With all the struggles that come with being autistic has also come an incredible gift for British artist Stephen Wiltshire he can draw in extraordinary detail from memory.

After standing in London's Piccadilly Circus for just 10 minutes, ABC News correspondent Nick Watt asked Wiltshire to draw it from memory.

It took him a little more than an hour. He drew without stopping. In the end Wiltshire's image was almost exact in every detail.

At age 3 Wiltshire was diagnosed with autism. Though mute and withdrawn, he demonstrated a natural talent and active interest in drawing.

Wiltshire uttered his first words only after his teachers at school temporarily took away his art supplies.

"I want paper. Please can I have a paper please to draw," he said.

Animals and London buses were Wiltshire's early favorites, before he moved on to buildings. At 12 years old he was featured in a BBC documentary titled "Fragments of Genius."

In the film Wiltshire took a 10-minute helicopter ride over London. Immediately afterward he completed a detailed and perfectly scaled aerial drawing of a 4-square-mile area of London, including 12 landmarks and more than 200 other buildings.

Fame brought overseas trips, commissions, adulation and astonishment at his ability. For Wiltshire, it brought happiness. When he's not traveling between exhibitions, the 27-year-old can be found at work in his London gallery.

At Wiltshire's gallery, he has drawings of Venice's St. Mark's Square, city scenes from Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Frankfurt and even a 32-foot-long panorama of Tokyo drawn from memory after a 30-minute helicopter ride.

"Your memory is like a photograph?" Watt said.

"Yea," Wiltshire said modestly with a laugh.

Though Wiltshire lives in London, he says it's not his true love.

"I prefer New York. It's my best favorite. They've got tall, high-rise, skyscrapers. And the streets and avenues and yellow New York taxicabs," Wiltshire said.