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Adraian Rodica Orr

Adriana Rodica Orr was born in the early 1960s in Bucharest, Romania, to a pair of professionals. Her cultured parents instilled in their two children, a boy and a girl, a love of music, fine arts and literature. Sensitive and endowed with a vivid imagination, from early childhood little Adriana showed a strong inclination for drawing and a
spontaneous use of colour; her ability was such that, after finishing elementary school, she was readily admitted to the Middle School for Arts. But after three years, despite obvious talent, she was relegated on socio-political grounds to a high school preparing technicians for the textile industry.

In the autumn of 1981, dissatisfied with the lack of freedom and fed up with the severe privations imposed on Romanians by the communist dictatorship, she and her family defected to the West. Having been granted political asylum in Greece, they spent half a year in a refugee camp while waiting for Canadian landed immigrant visas. The following year they settled in Vancouver, and in 1985, all four became Canadian citizens.

Canada proved to be a kind host to Adriana, who under the maple leaf flag tasted real freedom for the first time in her life. Thus she could follow unhindered her true calling—the search for and expression of beauty. She began by studying Costume and Stage Design for three years at Douglas College in New Westminster. After graduation she worked for a year as a display consultant at the now-defunct Woodwart’s. On the side she did freelance work realizing costumes for several plays staged by local companies. Created with modest budgets and readily available fabrics, Adriana’s original, elegant and sumptuous costumes (photos 1 & 2), repeatedly brought her critical acclaim.
But Adriana aspired to the glories of creative freedom, and in order to advance her dreams she quit her unpromising retail-related job and spent a year as a student at the Blanche Macdonald Centre, recognized worldwide for its fashion design curriculum. However, Adriana soon realized that, no matter how great her achievements, her limited financial resources couldn’t provide the necessary means for a successful career in the fashion industry. Therefore she decided to change direction and concentrate her efforts towards a career in higher education, and in 1988 she registered as a student at the University of Victoria. After earning a bachelor’s degree in History of Art, she enrolled in a master’s degree and a teaching certificate program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. There she renewed her friendship with an exceptional young man, a fellow student, whom she initially met in Victoria and whom she eventually married in 1994.

During her university years Adriana—spurred by her desire to create perfect beauty—took every opportunity to hone her drawing and painting skills. Every minute that was not dedicated to formal studies she spent outdoors, trying to capture the elusive atmosphere of nature or sketching live models in art studios. In those years of apprenticeship she intensively experimented with watercolours, oils and acrylics, often trying her hand at sculpture. The Demelza’s Dream (photo 3) dates from that period, and was inspired by the life of an eponymous character from the BBC Poldark series. The work is imbued with melancholy, and the girl’s golden dreams seem to be destined to certain doom. As a spin-off of her research about Byzantine influences on Romanian religious art, she applied her talent to creating tapestries in the so-called Gobelin (Petit Point) technique. The Moldavian Princes (photo 4) is part of such a project. Inspired by the murals, which traditionally commemorated the erection of churches by medieval Romanian rulers, Adriana designed the piece as a votive composition of 2.5 x 1.5 meters. It comprised a reigning prince and his princess dressed in full regalia, presenting the model of a church. She designed the initial pattern, drew it on graph paper and then stitched it, using over 95 coloured threads, on Penelope canvas. The completion of the entire tapestry would’ve taken several years, but unfortunately she was unable to finish it.

Adriana received her Teaching Certificate in mid 1997 and spent the following months applying for jobs in Canada and the USA. Her portfolio of artworks being a major asset, all her interviews ended successfully and she vacillated between many choices, including one offer from an American college which listed among benefits the exclusive use of a fully equipped studio. Sadly, at this glorious moment in her life Fate decided to do her an ill turn. All of sudden Adriana contracted an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis. The illness’ flare-ups were spectacular and terrible: in a few hours she would be completely paralyzed and in excruciating pain. In the beginning, remission came after intensive treatment, but it was only temporary. Then the attacks became more frequent, leaving her every time weaker and more disabled. She still painted, and The Cornucopia and My Soul (photos 5 & 6) are two works from that time. Filled with premonitory anguish they speak, subtly and more poignantly than Munch’s The Scream, about a mature artist struggling with soul-wrenching distress. When she couldn’t paint anymore she wrote unusual poetry, full of colour and light, her suffering discreet but never absent (see: Condeie din Diaspora - www.observatorul.com). But soon she had to give up even that and she spent the last 12 years in an auxiliary hospital…

Adriana’s life is now over, her great artistic projects crushed, her creative urge annulled and her flame of generosity put out. But her many talents are still alive in her works and they tell us the heartbreaking story of an ardent soul whose thirst for beauty and liberty nothing but death could appease.

Gabriel Watermiller    6/14/2015


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