Stephen Wiltshire – An Amazing Talent

The latest brand advertising campaign for UBS, the Zurich-based financial services provider is quite remarkable.Notably in the thoughtful way it pays tribute to a number of exceptional and inspirational people. These include people from the world of the arts to mountaineers, and each embodies the same spirit of the campaign slogan, which is:

“We will not rest”

One of the featured people who linger in one’s memory is the artist Stephen Wiltshire, the possessor of a highly original and quite incredible talent. He can draw seemingly impossible complex scenes after just seeing them once.

Stephen did not have an easy start in life. He was mute as an infant and diagnosed with autism at age three. Struggling to communicate, life at his primary school could have been unbearable had he not been encouraged to learn how to draw. Through his pictures he learned to make himself understood, gaining in confidence until with the aid of patient teachers he eventually spoke, aged five. He continued to draw, choosing cityscapes and buildings as his primary subjects. It became apparent that Stephen had the uncanny ability to look at a subject – such as complex architectural vistas – only once and then accurately reproduce it in painstaking detail. In 1987 he was featured in a BBC documentary exploring the world of autistic savants – people with autism who display exceptional talent – called The Foolish Wise Ones. His story then became known throughout the UK, as were the proofs of his talent.

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Stephen has drawn panoramic representations of Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Madrid and Dubai, and other cities and landscapes. He has published several successful books of drawings of which the third, Floating Cities, reached number one on the Sunday Times Bestseller List.

UBS commissioned Stephen Wiltshire to create a panoramic drawing of the New York skyline and the process was filmed by director Noah David Smith with the footage then used in UBS’s global brand advertising campaign. For this process, Stephen was given a trip over his favourite city, New York, in a helicopter. The flight lasted for just twenty minutes, following which he was ready to draw. He went on to sketch a drawing of the city, from Brooklyn all the way to Queens, entirely from his memory of what he had seen during his brief trip. Each skyscraper, building and monument was captured in incredibly accurate and minute detail and Stephen completed his work in only three days.

Capturing the process of Stephen working to create a new artwork is a genuine privilege. As his sister describes it, it is indeed ‘almost like fine embroidery’ and the results are beautiful and hugely impressive. This picture went on to be used as a billboard at the International Arrivals Hall in Terminal 1 at JFK Airport for a time.

Every bit as inspiring as seeing the work of such a prodigious talent is understanding the spirit and attitude of the man himself, which is why UBS wanted to commission his work in particular. Of his approach to life, Stephen says:

“Do the best you can, and never stop.”

UBS wholeheartedly agrees with this outlook and salutes Stephen Wiltshire. From a truly challenging beginning, Stephen has exhibited not only outstanding creative flair; he has also shown genuine resilience. Overcoming his condition’s brick walls of communication and persevering through hard times enabled him to find the unique talent within himself that in turn transformed his life.

True to the “We will not rest” motto of the UBS campaign, Stephen is a wonderful example of how overcoming what others may see as a problem can give rise to rare abilities; how keeping going through tough times can lead us to success; how talent wins out, given a little space and encouragement. His story feels miraculous at first hearing – and at so many levels it really is.

You can find out more about the UBS brand advertising campaign here:

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