Dee Warburton eyes the 12ft by 6ft canvas on the wall.
The piece, entitled Black British Icons, is an early painting by world-famous graffiti artist, Temper, whose work now sells for £100,000 a time.
It features iconic black British celebrities from music, sport and media. And unless it is snapped up by someone prepared to pay close to its £45,000 valuation, Dee plans to divide it into 12 canvases at £3,500 each.
“It’s a stunning piece and a steal at £45,000,” said Dee.
“I am loath to section it, as the complete montage sends out a strong message. But galleries in the UK, London, LA, San Francisco and New York all told me this work, and others in my collection, are too big to house and are unlikely to sell as they are.”
Other works Dee owns, by Chu, Mode 2, MaClaim, and Daim, are also to be sectioned and Dee believes his drastic action is making art accessible.
“There are people who would love an original work by the likes of Temper but can’t afford it,” he said.
“These images are collages that can be transformed into jigsaws. Pieces could end up in homes, offices and studios all over the world.”
Dee, who grew up in Sheffield, has been hugely instrumental in legitimising spray art initially scorned as vandalism. In the 1980s he co-founded Sheffield graffiti crew TDK, and featured in a ground-breaking BBC documentary on Street Art.
From the 1990s to early 2000s he staged hip hop workshops and festivals at which new and established European graffiti artists painted live. He was granted ownership of the canvases produced and some pieces in the treasure trove he amassed are now estimated at £100,000. The artist and entrepreneur, now a London art college lecturer, has wanted to exhibit the collection for years.
“It is pioneering work, much of it not been viewed since it was painted, which documents the evolution of an art form shunned and dismissed in its 1980s infancy as vandalism,” he said.
“Without it, Banksy would not now be world-famous!”
Dee is planning to exhibit his private collection, most of which has not seen the light of day since it was created up to 15 years ago, at a gallery in London this summer.
The exhibition, Acclaimed, will feature 40 pieces and a number of their famous creators have already been invited to the launch night. But the show can only go ahead, at London’s Westbank Gallery in Notting Hill, if the current owner first sacrifices some of the artwork.
Dee, who has spent 30 years gaining recognition for the art movement spawned by graffiti tags in the late Eighties, needs to raise £50,000 to stage the exhibition.
He is preparing to sell a number of canvases – hence his current idea to slice and dice some of the bigger pieces for a crowdfunding campaign he will soon launch.
And Dee’s big ambitions are all the more impressive given his tough start. Life has not always been kind to the 46-year-old who came from a very broken Sheffield home. After his mother died, when he was aged just three, and his depressed dad fled back to Jamaica, never to be heard from again, Dee found himself in foster care, where he was beaten and abused. He eventually fled to live with his older sister in a council house at Winn Gardens, Middlewood.
A row with an art teacher led to him leaving school at 15: ”It was a life drawing class; we had a bunch of flowers to draw,” he explained.
“That didn’t appeal to me whatsoever. I started sketching graffiti characters instead. That was my kind of art. The teacher leaned over me and shouted in my face: ‘Warburton you will be nothing and no one. Get out of my class’.”
From then on, he tagged and bombed any building and bridge, bus and train he could, using paint most often stolen. Arrested many times, he saw his juvenile record as a learning curve.
The writing could have been on the wall for him; but graffiti was his saviour.
After joining Sheffield graffiti gang TDA – Total Destructive Art – in the 1980s, Dee suggested they morph into the less abrasively named TDK – Too Damn Creative.
“I felt the word ‘destructive’ gave the wrong impression,” he said.
His thinking was bang on and, as the taggers in the group went their own way and TDK kept its focus on the artistic side of graffiti, the crew gained a grant from the Prince’s Trust.
“The Trust was helping urban youth to become entrepreneurial. We wanted to make a living out of what we loved doing. We were amazed to get £700 to buy airbrushes and compressors,” he recalled.
When Prince Charles later visited Sheffield, TDK presented him with a mural featuring a character hovering a pen over a blank cheque. Dee encouraged the Prince to ‘tag’ the artwork by signing the cheque. The story went national, but the signed artwork disappeared the next day, never to be seen again. Dee suspects someone in authority disposed of it.
TDK split in 1989 but Dee spearheaded TDK Collective, which embraced not only graffiti art, but dance and elements of hip hop culture. Dee went on to become a dancer for Warp Records, touring the UK, Europe and the US with artists like LFO, Altern 8, Nightmares on Wax and Moby.
In the 1990s, Dee launched award-winning company The NonStop Foundation, which aided the cultural development of thousands through workshops, events and accredited courses.
Now a father of three, Dee is a course leader in graphic design at The London College UCK. His knowledge has been harnessed in the creation of a graffiti and street art unit for BTEC Higher National diploma art and design students across the globe.
Dee suggested and wrote the Advanced Art Practice Studies unit that recognises graffiti art, spray can art and street art as credible art forms – something he fought for 30 years to achieve.
Now he has turned his focus to this exhibition, in the hopes that these previously unseen works may inspire another generation.
“A few years after I left school, I bumped into the art teacher who yelled at me that day,” smiled Dee.
“She told me how proud she was now.
“I felt vindicated – she empowered me without realising it!”
Visit IndieGogo to browse Dee’s collection which is currently for sale.