November 3, 2009 / 3:30 PM / 9 years ago

Autistic artist finds inspiration in New York city

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stephen Wiltshire was diagnosed as autistic at aged three, did not speak until five but as an adult sells his art for thousands of British pounds.

British artist Stephen Wiltshire works on a hand drawn panorama of the skyline of New York, from a studio in Brooklyn at the Pratt Institute, October 28, 2009. REUTERS/Chip East

Wiltshire was recently in New York for the last of nine massive panoramic drawings of major cities around the world. He has drawn each from his unique memory that stores the complete view of a city after taking a helicopter ride that lasts minutes.

“I see the buildings and the skyline and see it from a bird’s eye view,” said Wiltshire, 35, of his New York helicopter ride which included views of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Citicorp building, Rockefeller Center and Central Park.

“The whole of Manhattan,” he added.

The 20-foot (six meter) New York panorama follows those done in Tokyo, Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem and London.

Wiltshire said he loves New York and it shows in the shy smile and the way he recounts what attracts him to the city.

“I’m interested to see the skyscrapers and street scenes, the New York taxi cabs, limousines and big American cars,” Wiltshire said.

Compared with London, where he was born to West Indian parents, New York “is very huge, of squares and rectangles and very easy avenues,” he added.

His love of the city also shows in his favorite movies which include Saturday Night Fever.

“Because it’s in the 70s, which I love, and I like the Bee Gees and I think John Travolta is great.” Wiltshire said. “He’s a great actor and I like his dance moves. He’s cool.”

Wiltshire’s gift was discovered during that difficult childhood where he could not relate to the world, or it to him, and one of the few things that calmed him was to draw.

The first depictions of animals and London buses have evolved into the city scapes, buildings and landmarks that make him an internationally-recognized artist.

“I wanted to draw,” Wiltshire said simply. “I feel good. I am pleased with what I am doing.”

His main media are pen and ink, pencils, chalk, charcoal and colored pastels on paper.

Though Wiltshire is far from being a struggling artist, he still studies art one day a week in London.

“As we saw art becoming a career for him, we thought to get him a degree,” said Annette Wiltshire, 37, Stephen’s sister who accompanied him to New York. “He’s a mature student, part time.”

Going to art school also allows Stephen to interact with more people and discover different ways to create images, his sister said.

Brother and sister are visibly close and speak with the same West Indian-infused British lilt.

“The only thing to calm him down was to draw or play with toy double-decker buses,” she said of her brother’s early years when his frustrations with the world would result in screaming tantrums.

Wiltshire lives with his mother in London and as well as art school, his routine includes Wednesday’s and Friday’s at his gallery in that city and piano lessons on Thursday.

Weekends “are with my mum,” he said. Wiltshire’s father died when Stephen was two.

He was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in 2006 for services to the art world.

“He’s a very nice man,” Wiltshire said. “He talked to me about my interest in art and was very kind.”

After finishing the New York drawing, Wiltshire will be like any other tourist. His sightseeing list includes riding a tour bus and going to the New York Police Department museum.

“The noises, the bright lights on Broadway,” said Wiltshire, smiling and thinking of the city he enjoys.

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Reporting by Nick Olivari; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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