Total Recall

Artist Draws New York Skyline From Memory

Twenty minutes was all it took for Stephen Wiltshire to memorize the entire New York City skyline, which he has been publicly recreating at a gallery at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Wiltshire, who is autistic, took a brief helicopter ride above the city and has been working only from the memories of that short journey to sketch the panorama of New York’s 305 square miles on a 19-foot-long sheet of paper. “I always memorize by helicopter,” says the artist, who did not communicate verbally until the age of 5, after a field trip. The kindergartener’s first spoken words were none other than “paper” and “pen.” When his teacher at his London school for autistic children handed him the items he named that day, Wiltshire drew exactly what he’d seen on their educational outing. He eventually learned the alphabet by associating each letter with a place he’d seen, like “B” for Buckingham Palace. Wiltshire began his elaborate renderings at about 3 years old and has previously drawn eight major cities after similar helicopter rides. “We’ll all see the same thing, but we focus on what is of special interest,” his sister said. “For Stephen, it’s like a sponge where he absorbs everything but he doesn’t squeeze out the rest.”