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Bury St Edmunds and Thetford artist Dan Lish talks about his journey from graffiti to selling at Sotheby's

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From misspelt graffiti in Thetford back streets to bringing his love of hip-hop to artwork at auction in Sotheby’s New York City, Dan Lish’s story could be part of a video game that he now leads in creating concept art for.

After growing up in Vinery Road, Bury St Edmunds, then moving to Thetford’s Abbey Estate, he attributes his passion for hip-hop to his friends and the influences of early 1980s documentaries and record collections coming out of RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath.

“It came to our shores through little snippets on the TV and the music, the style and the little things connected to it fascinated and grabbed me as a 14-year-old,” he said.

Artist Dan Lish, whose artwork has been inspired by his hip-hop idols
Artist Dan Lish, whose artwork has been inspired by his hip-hop idols

“At that age you are trying to find your click, your tribe, and I just wanted to be out with my friends expressing myself by spinning on my head and grabbing a spray can – all the planets seemed to align at that right time.”

Finding this way to express himself did not start well – having dyslexia, Dan said his first graffiti was not at the standard it is now.

The 51-year-old former Hardwick Middle and Rosemary Musker Schools pupil said: “I remember I put up the word scratch and missed out one of the letters – I was focusing too much on the style. Looking back it was hilarious.”

Hip Hop duo Black Sheep. Picture: Dan Lish
Hip Hop duo Black Sheep. Picture: Dan Lish

Fast forward to 1999 and Dan moved stateside to New York City, fully immersing himself in hip-hop culture.

Dan was DJing, battle break dancing (known as B-boyin’) with a Puerto Rican crew called B.I.S. and even married his wife, Karyn, on Staten Island in March 2001.

He said: “I was obsessed with it from that young age, so when I went over I went to the Bronx, hanging out in Crotona and Rosedale parks with the architects of it really.”

After seven years, the pair moved back to England where they now live in Hove.

Wu-Tang Clan. Picture: Dan Lish
Wu-Tang Clan. Picture: Dan Lish

But it was in September, 2014, on train journeys from Brighton to London, where he was working for the video game industry, when Dan drew his hip-hop idols such as Grandmaster Flash and the Wu-Tang Clan in an A5 notepad.

He said: “I thought I would do an ode to the people that influenced me, the artists and their creative processes – it happened very organically. That was a beautiful time, a visual adventure really, the process was very cathartic – though I am sure I knocked a couple of cups of coffee out of people’s hands from time to time as I was getting all expressive.”

Some of these images formed his first book, Egostrip Book 1, but also caught the eye of Sotheby’s back in New York City and he was asked to sell some of his originals in its ‘The Art and Influence of Hip Hop’ week last month.

Grandmaster Flash. Picture: Dan Lish
Grandmaster Flash. Picture: Dan Lish

Dan said: “Monica Lynch, former president of Tommy Boy Records, reached out to me about the sale.

“As soon as she made contact I went into fanboy mode as she has so many stories of the artists I loved –she wanted to talk about the work and I wanted to talk about her tales.”

Some of Dan’s original pieces sold, including one for more than $10,000. He said that representing a week of hip-hop art at the world famous auctioneers had not sunk in.

“I think it will be one of those things that sinks in, as things do, probably a couple of years later.

“It is overwhelming at the moment, it will be months or years going by when you look back and think that was bonkers.”

Now, spending time as a family man with his wife and two children, Abigail and Ellse, is his obsession, while he works for video game companies – which have included Sony, Lucasarts, Activision and Rockstar Games. And he hopes to bring out the second instalment of Egostrip, too.

On the future, Dan said: “It is all about focusing on my family and also continuing the inner work of trying to be a better person and being more authentic to myself which I then can reflected in my artwork.”

To find out about Dan and his work, go to www.danlish.com and on Instagram; danlish1