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How's bayou? 'Beautiful Creature' comforts

I can't distinguish between the evil eye and pink eye. And when I see rotten floorboards on a mansion's front porch, my hands go all clammy, as it reminds me of needed repairs at Madewood.

So why was I enthralled with the flippant, dark-side flick, "Beautiful Creatures," whose more arcane sequences were filmed on sound stages in New Orleans? It featured Emma Thompson with gleaming Rosicrucian eyes and Jeremy Irons navigating a rotten porch at the old Ravenswood place -- A-list actors winking, with tongues-in-cheek, for 90 minutes.

Besides, a friend had warned me the film was "kind of teenage."

Movie artists: Lockwood's portrait of a proud owner's Mercedes; the one at left was in 'Beautiful Creatures.'

Chalk my enthusiasm up to two New Orleans artists, painter Lory Lockwood and sculptor Brent Barnidge, who nobly filled the role of creator as artist practitioner by realizing intricate sculptural set details and immortalizing a classic vehicle in the film.

Lockwood and Barnidge are neighbors at Mid-City Studios, an expansive brick warehouse that offers tranquil open workspace to creative folk in a quiet neighborhood near City Park.

New Orleanian Lory Lockwood was always enamored of photography. Snap, snap, snap! Until one day she got bored with it. She decided to teach sculpture and ceramics at Country Day school for a while, then found herself ready for another change.

She took courses at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art, where she studied with director Auseklis Ozols and others, who praised her facility with rendering the glistening christening cups, silver utensils and Christmas ornaments they'd set up in still lifes for students to paint.

"I kept stumbling onto reflections," she recalls. "And I began taking photographs of subjects I wanted to use in paintings."

One day, Lockwood was photographing the intricate surface of a sycamore tree outside the Academy. She turned around and noticed the reflection of the tree on a parked car nearby.

"I snapped that and took the picture to class. Everyone was wild about it." A Chrome Diva was born.

Lockwood has never looked back, except into a rear-view mirror to see what it might reflect. She's painted the vehicles and cycles of both the low and the mighty. An exhibition titled "Reflections on the Avenue" chronicled images she'd seen reflected in windshields, chrome and paint of vehicles parked along St. Charles Avenue.

Her most dramatic gallery exhibition, "Bikes and Babes," was held in 1998 at the Sylvia Schmidt Gallery in the Warehouse District. Lockwood immortalized numerous motorcycles on canvas, rented the real things to place in front of the works, and invited owners, who posed with the cycles in front of the paintings.

"It turned into something of a rally," she recalls.

In her works for gallery exhibitions -- and for pure pleasure, Lockwood, who always works from photographs, distorts the reflected images in computer paint programs, then uses those images to create stunningly vibrant abstractions based on the original reflections -- or, in the case of flame-embellished hot-rods, the exuberant work of the airbrush artist on the vehicle.

But there's another side to Lockwood's vehicular art: paintings of owners' cherished cars as detailed 'portraits of loved ones.'

Such was the case in her triple portrait of a proud Mississippian's classic Mercedes cars, one of which was featured in "Beautiful Creatures."

Lockwood is no stranger to the creation of art for movies. She recalls a commission that began with "meeting Sylvester Stallone without his shirt on and having him describe all his tatoos -- particularly the one of his wife.

She ended up painting several guitars for the movie "The Expendables," and remembers "being called to the set at 3 a.m. to try and advise Mickey Rourke how to hold a paint brush while pretending to paint the flowers on the guitar," which Lockwood had previously painted.

Lockwood loves the dual nature of her endeavors: abstraction based on vehicles for gallery exhibitions and personal pleasure, and photo-realist portraits of beloved cars for proud owners.

"I love the car shows, and the car people," she says enthusiastically. "And I love the gallery exhibitions." The best, she maintains, is when the two parts mingle.

Her only problem these days? "New cars have so little chrome," she bemoans. "they're really boring."

Brent Barnidge, a native of Thibodaux, set out to span the practical and creative worlds.

"I had a deep interest in both art and economics, specifically the application of economics to environmental and natural resource issues, but I pursued economics as the the more financially-responsible option, a 'real job' if you will."

Until he got his first sculpting job, working at Mardi-Gras producer Kern Studio to tide himself over during job interviews. That was it. He had always drawn and painted, but sculpting was a revelation, "something that just seemed to come more naturally to me."

Brent Barnidge's relief works for 'Beautiful Creatures' in progress

Almost completely self-taught in the medium, Barnidge discovered "there was something very gratifying about the more physical, tactile nature of sculpting."

His understanding of the medium expanded exponentially when he accepted a position teaching sculpture at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art.

"Trying to deconstruct and communicate a process that, until then, I had just done intuitively," he explained, was an education. "I had to articulate the individual steps of sculpting. It was a real challenge."

Bolstered by this new understanding of the medium, he now works exclusively on individual commissions and projects such as "Beautiful Creatures." He's participated in exhibitions at the Academy and the Contemporary Arts Center; and you've probably seen his work in the front pediment of Harrah's Casino. He turned the drawings of iconic New Orleans artist George Dureau into the sculptural figures that leap out at the beholder.

Has he seen "Beautiful Creatures"?

Barnridge's movie bas-relief has an Indiaa Jones feel to it.

"I definitely will, and I do take great interest in anything I've worked on. I think there a lot of artists who are creation addicts, always enamored of the next big idea. I am interested in the final results; but I find that if I treat the sculpture that I'm working on as overly precious, my work is too measured and tentative. I have to be willing to chuck it if it's not working.

"I definitely sculpt for pleasure," he asserts, thinking of a time when he can simply be free to create on his own. "If I had my druthers, it's all I'd do."

Barnidge definitely should not miss the most-recent final product of his work, relief sculptures that embellish an Indiana-Jones-like structure in the movie.

Barnidge's finished product for 'Beautiful Creatures.'

As Ethan Wate,  the young hero of "Beautiful Creatures," descends a hidden stairway from the town's non-descript library into the sequestered antique world that Barnridge and his artists created as the subterranean Casters' Library, he asks in amazement, "Has this always been here?"

The imperious librarian Amman (Viola Davis, moving up the Wiccan ladder from her starring role as small-town maid Abileen in "The Help"), who all along has been a "Marian, the (supernatural) Librarian" figure, explains, "No, for many years it was under Washington, D.C."

Until Nancy Reagan insisted that it be moved.

"She's the only mortal we've ever feared."

How can you not love such a wacky film, especially when it engages the art and design of Lory Lockwood and Brent Barnridge to raise it from the depths of one liners to the sublimity of artistic creation? Go see.

You can learn more about the artists at www.lorylockwood.com and www.brentbarnidge.com. For the past 17 years, Lockwood has offered her Inside Guide to Galleries and Colections, a personal look at great artworks in New Orleans, by subscription.

The video below offers a quick look (literally) at Barnidge's creations for the movie:

How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.