But overall, the self-imposed limitations of “99 Bottles of Beer” have kept Sanford productive in the studio. It’s a trick he has used before, a bit like giving himself an assignment with its own rules and deadlines. In 2012, he drew 100 well-known individuals who died that year; in 2015, he received a commission to make 100 portraits of celebrities from Nevada. Beer bottles might be a little different, but, like people, they each have their own distinctive personality.
Last week, I invited Sanford down to the Artsy offices in lower Manhattan to imbibe in the name of art. I picked a few bottles of Bell’s Oberon for the occasion—a Michigan beer whose wobbly logo of a sun has always reminded me of fan-art made by a Dave Matthews Band follower.
“This is an attractive label,” the artist says, approvingly. “It’s good and graphic and simple, and there’s symmetry. And the image doesn’t bother me at all.”
While Sanford is open to all beers, some of them do have more appeal as subjects for paintings. India Pale Ales often come with over-the-top names and corresponding graphics. “They’re always so cartoony and baroque,” he says. “I like the more classic labels—I like doing the text, as opposed to trying to ape someone else’s very labored art.”