THE first time I heard about Stephen Wiltshire, I thought he was a Dominican. But my attraction was not where he came from. I was more interested in the fact that a human being could fly over New York in a helicopter and the drawn a sky view of The Big Apple.
That’s how he was described to me by a friend at an international conference – as a sort of ‘ninth wonder of the world’ with a talent no one else has. And with that talent harvested, he is destined to make the Caribbean proud.
Then the discussion broke into a quiet argument over which country should or could lay claim to this new world wonder.
One of the delegates had downloaded some images painted by Wiltshire and referred to Derek Walcott, something about Wiltshire ‘sharing the Nobel excellence of his fellow Saint Lucian gift to the world.”
It was during that discussion at a coffee shop at an international airport that I learned from my learned friend that Stephen has Saint Lucian roots. My interest naturally deepened, my knowledge of him growing that day with a shifting image that metamorphosed from someone I never knew to someone I started to feel like I had always known.
I was even more proud that Stephen is able to achieve so much as someone diagnosed with autism and fought all adversities to survive to be who he is today.
Wiltshire is as much a product of Britain as was his fellow Englishman Professor Stephen Hawking – and like his namesake, the artist has and physically documents a foresight and understanding of his universe like no one else has.
Wiltshire was born in London, England, in 1974 to Caribbean parents. His father, Colvin, was a Barbadian and his mother, Geneva, a St. Lucian.
He grew up in Little Venice, Maida Vale, London, where, as a child, he struggled beyond all odds to beat the odds and express himself as graphically as he could, without words.
Stephen was diagnosed with autism when he was only three years old and was mute while growing up.
One account of many sent to me says, “At the age of five, Stephen was sent to Queensmill School in London, where it was noticed that the only pastime he enjoyed was drawing. It soon became apparent he communicated with the world through the language of drawing — first animals, then London buses, and finally buildings.
“These drawings show a masterful perspective, a whimsical line and reveal a natural innate artistry.”
“The instructors at Queensmill School encouraged him to speak by temporarily taking away his art supplies so that he would be forced to ask for them.
“Stephen responded by making sounds and eventually uttered his first word” Paper!”
“Wiltshire finally learned to speak fully at the age of nine.”
As an artist, he draws and paints detailed cityscapes.
He is documented as having “a particular talent for drawing lifelike, accurate representations of cities, sometimes after having only observed them briefly.”
The young Londoner was soon discovered by the British monarchy and he was awarded an MBE for services to the art world in 2006.
Stephen also studied Fine Art at City & Guilds Art College.
His work is popular worldwide and also included in a number of important collections.
Since my first encounter with Stephen’s world, I have naturally like his Saint Lucia connection. But he is more than just another son of another (Saint) ‘Lucian’ woman or ‘Bajan’ man.
Deep admirers will tell you his Caribbean mum and dad bore the world a son like no other, who continues to make them – and the world – proud that he was born in our time.
No, it’s not about where he was born, or even who his parents are.
Thanks to their care and the attention that came with his medical, artistic and other advanced specialist interventions thanks too to those relatives striving to continue to show this ninth wonder of the world to the rest of the world.