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Stephen Wiltshire 27/09/03 - 30/11/03

From: Jenny Clarke
Category: Exhibitions
Date: 06 November 2003


Not a Camera: The Unique Vision of Stephen Wiltshire 27 Sept - 30 Nov 2003 Orleans House Gallery, Riverside, Twickenham TW1 3DJ Tues - Sat 1.00 - 4.30pm, Sun 2.00 - 4.30pm

Stephen Wiltshire is a 'savant' and it is clear from the gallery introduction that this is a form of autism. If, like me, your closest experience of autism is the film 'Rainman' - perhaps not exhaustively informative - you may wish to find out more. Slotted amongst the drawings are small texts that describe just how inexplicable Stephen Wiltshire's condition is. Nowhere, however, is there an explanation of the term 'savant'. Later, on the top floor of the gallery, I stumbled upon the 1987 BBC Q.E.D documentary on Stephen playing full blast, the sound of which filled the gallery. I had missed this because I was listening to my walkman, necessary to drown out the noise of the what seemed to be most of West London strolling en masse around the gallery.

Viewing this exhibition with one of my senses impaired seemed fairly appropriate, and due to the nature of the exhibition (a retrospective of a disabled artist) the gallery explanations could easily have been more socially inclusive. What I did discover for myself was a multitude of detailed, vibrant ink drawings that had been created with such energy that they almost jumped around the paper. 'Trademark' buildings cropped up - such as the Houses of Parliament, and the BT Tower. These seem to be drawn from memory, yet Stephen must have to see the buildings once, as there were photographs displayed showing him in front of some of these buildings. They are then etched in his mind, as each of the repeated images carry the same dazzling attention to detail.

Stephen has a distinct style and is 'not a camera' in the sense that each version of his buildings has slight differences. The most unusual aspect of this exhibition however is the sheer volume of work on display considering the similarity of each these drawings. Although his style undergoes subtle changes, it has not 'developed' in a conventional sense. On adding colour, as with a small selection of the work, the drawings lose some of their energy - he doesn't seem to have the same feel for colour as for line.

A conventional artist, working in this medium would have to have unlimited patience and an overwhelming sense of focus to produce such a body of work. Stephen's drawings are indeed an expression of a unique vision, which is unobtainable to most people, and his drawings therefore have a slightly eerie quality. They serve as a reminder of just how boringly normal the majority of us are.

NOTE: I found out after I left the exhibition that an 'autistic savant' is someone who, in addition to being autistic, processes a highly unusual ability or talent not displayed in others.

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