For us at It’s Nice That, the annual release of Mr Bingo’s playful and irreverent advent calendar is always an early harbinger of the festive season. The London-based artist has been making them since 2016 so this year’s is the third in the series – and it’s a cracker. As in previous years, the calendar features his drawings of nude models (real people who volunteer over social media), which are covered in clothes printed on in gold scratch-off ink, so that they can then be revealed day by day in the lead-up to Christmas.
The set for this year’s advent calendar is a pub. “To find the perfect location I cycled 120 miles around London and looked at 44 pubs until I found the perfect one, which happened to be The Five Bells in New Cross,” says Mr Bingo. “The next bit I dreaded, which was persuading the landlord that he should let me photograph 24 naked strangers in his pub. Surprisingly he was totally into the idea, which was a result.”
The process of creating the calendar was fairly painstaking. After several reccy missions and trials, Mr Bingo photographed each person nude to begin with, then in exactly the same pose, but fully clothed. “It was all very methodical and organised for what is quite a funny thing to do,” he says. “The best thing was seeing the pub open up at midday and seeing the old men, builders and football lads sat with their pints, completely unaware that 20 minutes before a naked arse was plonked on that very seat.”
The next stage was going through thousands of photos and picking the perfect one of each person. He then made 55 separate drawings and combined them all into the final scene. The final calendars are screen-printed by hand in four layers (people, protective varnish, gold clothes, numbers) and then finished with a hand signature.
This year, though, there’s another layer to the story. Filmmaker Lee Holmes has shot a short documentary following the process of the calendar’s creation. Lee met Mr Bingo about a year ago and began following his work closely from then. “I put the idea of a documentary to him to see what he thought,” he says. “The first thing he told me was that he hated being on camera and having recorded interviews, so that was a great start! But he said he liked the documentary idea so we just discussed it a bit more and I began to think about ways that I could shoot it that wouldn’t be too invasive.”
What attracted Lee to the idea in the first place? “I loved the concept of the advent calendar and the fact that hundreds of people apply, but equally had no real idea as to why someone would want to be a part of it," he says. "[It] just isn’t something I’d personally ever considered doing, so I was curious as to what the reasons were for the people that did want to do it.” The resulting film is a sensitive documentary depicting a host of the colourful characters included in the final calendar, as they share their stories and their thoughts on stripping off for the piece. “Even though I often only had maybe a few minutes to speak to people,” says Lee, “everyone was really open and honest, which was amazing.”