Mr Bingo is one of the behind the scenes artists that we write about at The Velvet Onion. He’s one of those craftsmen who quietly help to make the world which inhabits these pages more visually distinctive. His uniquely comical illustrations have graced Mighty Boosh books and Rich Fulcher live shows, although the scope of what he does goes way beyond TVO’s remit.
This week limited edition prints of Mr Bingo’s iconic illustration of Amy Winehouse’s hair go on sale to raise money for the Amy Winehouse Foundation. Mr Bingo very kindly agreed to talk to us about this, his infamous and hugely popular art project Hate Mail, and how he got to know the Boosh boys.
Hello Mr Bingo, and welcome to TVO. Can you tell us how you got involved in the Amy Winehouse Foundation project?
A design agency called THEM are in charge of branding The Amy Winehouse Foundation. They know my work and approached me about doing a Hair Portrait of her. Hair portraits only work with certain people and Amy’s look lends itself perfectly to it.
I’m really pleased to be involved; I thought Amy was great and I’m a fan of her music, so when they approached me I was really keen to get on board.
What has the response been like from Amy’s fans?
From what I’ve seen, they’re really into it, which is great! You always get the odd “where’s the rest of the face?” comment, but that’s the internet for you.
She’s got a huge global fan base so hopefully the print will fly out to lots of different places.
Your Hair Portraits are incredibly well-liked (to the extent that people nick the designs and turn them into t-shirts – the bastards!). What inspired you to do the first one?
I was asked to contribute some work to a group show in 2007, so I just decided to try drawing people’s hair with nothing else and I made some prints (Star Wars being the first one). The way I always approach doing new prints is to create something that I’d like on my own wall and then hope that other people will want the same thing on theirs.
The curly ones take the longest, especially Slash from Guns N Roses. Actually the longest one I ever did was the Skatebeard which took a whole week, and I was still finishing it on the train on the way to the exhibition!
For the Boosh hair portrait Bollo was the most difficult because it was really hard to work out where the hair on the face kind of started. He’s an animal so he’s extra complicated!
Talking of The Mighty Boosh, how did you end up working with them?
I met Dave Brown in 2006. He was running a competition at the V&A village fete where people were challenged to draw Queen Victoria in one minute without taking your pen off the paper. I was awarded first prize!
Then Dave bought a set of Hair portrait prints off me, we had a beer and became friends. Weirdly, I hadn’t really seen The Mighty Boosh before I met him, so I checked it out and of course totally loved it.
Why do you think that there’s so much inter-connectedness between the people who end up working with them?
I think The Mighty Boosh only really work with friends and people who they admire which is a really lovely way to do things. They’re all super funny and creative people so collaborations are bound to happen and good things end up getting made.
You created the illustrations in Rich Fulcher‘s book Tiny Acts of Rebellion. What was the process behind that?
Dave designed the book so he commissioned me to do all the illustrations as he knows I can be quite fucked up (like Rich) so I’d be a suitable person to have involved. The three of us went to a pub for an afternoon with the list of headings that needed potential illustrations and had a big (slightly alcohol fuelled) brainstorm.
It was hilarious and a lot of ridiculous ideas were hatched, some of which made it into the book.
You were also involved in Rich’s Eleanor stage show. What did you do for that?
Not a lot, I just did some illustrations for it which popped up occasionally on the slide projector. My favourite was the pubic hair styles.
You’re arguably best known for Hate Mail, which has so far been a book, an exhibition, and one of the most in-demand commissions we’ve ever seen (the hilariously abusive postcards sell out in minutes whenever they become available). Do you think you’ll ever get bored with Hate Mail?
I don’t think I’ll ever get bored with it. It’s too much fun and the fact that I’m actually getting away with it makes it even more important to keep doing it. If I was doing it every day, I’d run out of abuse, so I do it sporadically to keep it fresh.
What level of abuse would be too much?
Other than racism or homophobia, anything goes. Actually I do try not to mention family members in case they’re not around anymore which would be sad. As far as I know, nobody has been seriously offended, but if they have, they haven’t told me! To be honest, if someone was actually offended by one, they’d be pretty stupid. If you take part in a project called ‘Hate Mail’, you have to have a pretty good sense of humour to begin with.
Is there anyone famous who you’d like to send some Hate Mail to?
There isn’t really. Hate Mail is too good for actual shit people, they don’t deserve it!