Artist Profile: Brent Barnidge

Thom Bennett

Brent Barnidge’s introduction to sculpture was a post-college job in the 1990s at Kern Studios in Algiers, building Mardi Gras floats and other whimsical constructions meant to be appreciated by parade-goers in the brief moments as they rattled past. Today, he works from his own Mid-City studio on fine art sculpture in relief that mesmerizes with its complex interpretations of perspective, shadow and texture, telling stories and revealing powerful metaphors along the way.

His latest project is shaping up to be his most visible so far. As part of the comprehensive renovation of the French Market, Barnidge was commissioned to sculpt a 19th-century scene of vendors, shoppers and the market’s Creole cornucopia. It will be unveiled this spring at the entrance to the farmers market portion of the historic public bazaar.

Originally from Thibodaux, Barnidge earned master’s degrees in economics and business administration before an artistic impulse led him to the float-building business, which he credits as an invaluable crash course in technical skills he still draws on today.  After about a year, Barnidge decided to strike out on his own and developed a base of clients for his commercial sculpture that now includes film crews, museum fabrication companies, zoos and museums, casinos and theme parks. At the same time, he kept cultivating his fine art work, branching out into different modes. That led him to sculpture in relief, which he first undertook after Hurricane Katrina. 

“Working in relief, you can expand from a snapshot to make an entire allegory in one piece,” he says. “It allows me to work out different thoughts, composition and figures and really expand the depth of what I’m trying to say.”

Indeed, entire stories and parables seem to come to life in Barnidge’s clay panels. In a piece titled Weapons of Mass Distraction, a coliseum audience seems transfixed on a single figure being controlled by a looming puppet master while an unnoticed bomber disgorges its deadly cargo high above. Another piece, titled The Seduction of Commerce, shows a beautiful female figure gently handling the lever on a network of wheels and gears leading to distant smokestacks. 

“I don’t have any regrets for studying business and economics but going down a different path,” says Barnidge. “A lot of that background gets into my work
in different ways.”

Barnidge continues his commercial work and public commissions while pursing his fine art projects.

He also teaches sculpture at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. 

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