McRainey turns beer bottle caps into art

Published 1:49 pm Saturday, April 7, 2007

At first glance, Brandon McRainey really, really likes beer.

Standing outside of his artist’s workshop, the Natchez native grinned as he gestured toward a 30-gallon trash can full of bottle caps.

“I didn’t drink all of these,” he said. “A lot of local bars have been really generous.”

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A quick glance at his back porch revealed why he would collect so many bottle caps. A collection of catfish, armadillos and roosters — all made out of bottle caps — leaned against an anvil.

He also makes crawfish, white egret, blue herring, crabs and alligator statuettes with bottle caps.

The 32-year-old artist has been fashioning “found object” art for about 10 years, focusing mainly on bottle cap sculpture. The idea behind found object art is for an artist to find something that is considered trash and fashion it into a work of artistic value.

“I’m always looking for things that people are throwing out,” he said.

McRainey first got the idea of using bottle caps for sculpture in college, when an art professor made a found-art assignment.

“He just handed us a handful of things and told us to make something,” he said. “Two of the objects that he gave me were a couple of flattened bottle caps.

McRainey noticed the caps looked like fish scales, and soon thereafter fashioned his first bottle cap fish.

That moment of inspiration served him well later on in college.

“Most people spend a couple of thousand dollars on their art thesis,” he said. “I spent maybe a couple of bucks.”

During college, McRainey studied landscape painting, figure drawing and art history in Florence, Italy.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I’m classically trained, and I ended up becoming a folk artist.

His artistic process begins by drawing a pattern.

“I usually go through four or five before I draw one that I like,” he said. “I want for each one to be different.

“I try not to do the same thing twice.”

Once he draws a pattern that he likes, he cuts a wood frame.

Then, he begins to hammer out bottle caps.

“I know that you have to be a little obsessive-compulsive to hammer out 10,000 bottle caps,” he said. “But after that, you get pretty good at it.”

Using wood glue and nails, he then fabricates his work onto the pattern.

Because there are only five major selling brands of beer, the kind of work that he can do is limited.

“My art is dictated by the beer labels,” he said. “It may take me a week to get enough green caps to make an alligator.”

Beer products aren’t the only things that McRainey works with. One object that he is particularly proud of is a chef statuette crafted out of wood and old aluminum Coca-Cola cans.

“I found an old, uncut sheet of can aluminum, and I knew that I could use it,” he said.

After college, McRainey opened a gallery in the oldest building in Merigold, where he gained some acclaim as a local artist. His work has since been exhibited as far away as California and New York.

“Most people around here know me as a musician,” he said. “For the last couple of years, I focused on music until I couldn’t sing anymore.”

The artistic break has served him well, he said.

“I’ve done more work in the last two months than I have in the last two years,” he said.

His work is on display locally at Slough Daddy’s Restaurant in Vidalia, and at Dunleith Plantation in Natchez, and he hopes to do a local show.

“I’m an indigenous artist,” he said. “I was born, raised and will die in Natchez.”