Wednesday, June 21, 2006
More than a camera...
Came across an excellent Guardian article that looked at Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic savant. Here are some edited highlights:
"Hello, nice to meet you, how are you, I'm very well thank you." Stephen Wiltshire fires out the introductory niceties, barely pausing for breath and not waiting for a response. Wiltshire, who is autistic, has learned the form of a meeting but not the practice; he knows the script but forgets the pauses.
He became famous in 1987 when his extraordinarily detailed drawings were showcased on the TV programme QED, and Hugh Casson, then president of the Royal Academy, declared him "the best child artist in Britain". The press raved about an autistic "savant" who could reproduce cityscapes from memory. This small, lost-looking black boy was declared a genius.
He loves the US and, in particular, New York: the skyscrapers, the avenues and above all the cars. He adores American cars, especially those graceful monsters from the 50s and 60s. Wiltshire's world is highly objective - he loves New York for its buildings, not its spirit. He is captivated by shapes and structures. One of his former tutors, Michael Buhler, has said that the fact Wiltshire cannot interpret what he sees, that he simply makes a duplicate of it, will limit his artistic progress. The title of the exhibition, Not a Camera, aims to meet that critique head on.
"There's a misconception that autistic people haven't got a sense of imagination," says the show's curator, Mark De Novellis. "Stephen has developed verbally, emotionally, artistically. He has lodged in the public consciousness and people remember the documentary, but they still think of him as a young child and they don't realise what he's done since. He's a professional full-time artist now - that's how he earns his living."
De Novellis says that while autism is important to Wiltshire's art, he doesn't want to be seen just as an autistic artist. "In the past he has sometimes been treated as a performing chimp," says De Novellis. "People have sat him down to draw a building from memory, as if it was a party trick."
A bit of searching led me to his web site, where there are some stunning examples of his art.
If you've got five minutes to spare, download this fascinating video clip.
The site that hosts the video clip is a mine of information on savant syndrome.