Orianna Kurrus has the world at her feet. As an artist, she’s one of the top emerging personalities of Tampa Bay. At the young age of 24, she has achieved local celebrity status by landing on the cover of Weekly Planet and winning a spot in the paper’s Best of the Bay for a fashion show in which she took part.
But even for someone seemingly so collected and channeled, Kurrus sometimes has a hard time pinpointing what it is exactly that makes her tick.
“Usually I don’t have a specific thought process while I make things, but there are recurring themes. Most of it (shows up) after I make it,” Kurrus said. “I look at things all together (and think), ‘Oh, I guess I like this a lot.'”
“This” refers to dismembered dolls and gutted teddy bears.
“I guess it is intentionally disturbing, but I also have a weird sense of what cute is. That’s part of it,” she said.
She points to a small, plush bunny rabbit, with a long red strand hanging from its belly.
“That doll that’s nailed to the wall over there, I crocheted its guts,” Kurrus said, sounding pleased and proud. “I thought it was cute.”
Which it is, albeit in a peculiar way. But all that really matters is that this USF fine arts senior has managed to convince other people of the cuteness of her work. This cuteness comes mostly from the themes on which she concentrates: dolls, little girls in oversized clothing, plush toys and teddy bears, sometimes cartoony but almost always just a bit grotesque.
Despite the occasionally macabre aspects of her work, Kurrus refuses to be categorized.
“I would prefer not to be labeled as goth,” she said. “I do have an interest in horror, but (I don’t think of it as) cool and dark. I think it’s funny and kitsch.”
For all the sticklers for labels and categorizing, however, the question remains: How would Kurrus classify her own work?
“Orianna art,” she said, chuckling a bit. “I don’t think I’d put myself in a group. I don’t think even all the stuff I do fits together in one group.”
With her works, Kurrus blends the boundaries between the forms of artistic expression.
“Supposedly my concentration is painting here (at USF), but recently I’ve been doing more fashion design and strange, mixed-media paintings,” she said. “And painting I sometimes think of as sculpture,” she said while pointing to a highly textured mixed-media piece on her wall.Perhaps this blending has its roots in her younger years.
“I definitely started with painting and drawing. I found pictures my mom had of me, covered in paint,” she said. “My parents were deranged hippies; they let me have free rein of artistic expression, and they let me paint my walls in my bedroom. I had crazy multicolored walls.”
With a family full of artists and musicians, Kurrus was free to create and was encouraged to express herself. Going into college, her decision to become an artist was always supported.
“They pretty much (said), ‘You’ve got to follow your dream,’ which now I’m like, ‘Damn it,'” she said.
Starting out at USF, Kurrus eventually ended up at the Montserrat Art College in Massachusetts.
“It was a pure art college, which I didn’t really like,” she said. “That was all that was there, and I like having other things, too. When I was there I decided I wanted to go into art therapy and decided to go back, take some psychology classes and get all my other stuff done.”
After two years of doing what she didn’t like, she decided to return to Florida, where she continued painting.
Kurrus exhibited her work at nearly a dozen shows in the Tampa area. One of her works, “My Brief and Insignificant Romance with the Vulture God,” a 16-foot canvas and a subconscious expression of her psyche, is a story about Kurrus’ ex-fiance and her best friend, who left her for each other, she said in an e-mail.
“This was very much an art therapy sort of thing for me, because it was about my ex-fiance. It was my way of working through it; it had to be 16 feet long for me to do it,” she said. “It wasn’t really that insignificant, since it’s so gigantic.”
Kurrus is reluctant to discuss the details of the breakup in person. Instead, in an e-mail, she forms her thoughts much more clearly.
“The figures of women not only depict the merging of my successor and I into one woman – the bodies are also made up of hundreds of tiny other women, to suggest the eternity of this situation and the repetition of this circumstance throughout the history of all love,” she wrote. “The fading figures and the swelling pregnant shapes show the passing into the next phase of life – a rebirth after shedding my old skin to be left behind with my old lover and his new mistress. He is not even human anymore – but a fantastical figure of my own imagination, a fairytale creature that never truly existed.”
While painting is still a major part of her work, Kurrus doesn’t limit herself to just one medium.
“I do such a wide range of things. People who see only my fashion don’t realize that I also do painting and sculpture,” she said. “I think of it all the same way. Fashion design is sort of like sculpting.”
And right she is. But according to Kurrus, the most pleasurable part of designing wearable art is that people can, and do, interact with it.
“I really like that interaction. I’m interested in fashion design for that reason as opposed to painting,” she said “With painting, it’s usually just there on the wall, and people are afraid to touch it, even. With clothes, even though people think it’s fine art, I can see people experiencing it in some way.”
Right now, Kurrus has two runway projects underway. One is a followup to last year’s Wearable Art show at the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, the same show that nabbed the Best of the Bay.
“With my fashion design, I seem to have recurring things of dolls and crowns,” she said.Among other recurring themes are striped stockings, oversized dresses and floor-length sleeves.
“It reminds me either of a little girl trying on her mom’s clothes or a doll where the clothes are too big,” she said.
The second undertaking is with Carly Champagne, whom Kurrus met at the “Ladies’ Room” show at Vitale Gallery in St. Petersburg. Both artists participated in the Dunedin Wearable Art show, and last semester Champagne – who’s most known for dresses and accessories she designs out of condoms – curated a show called “Static Art,” another runway/fine arts show featuring the works of both.
“We’re going to have contortionists and fire breathers. It’s going to be a whole experience,” Kurrus said. “(Champagne is) focusing mostly on sculptural things and painting, although I’m doing some painting, too. But I’m doing most, if not all, the fashion for the show. We’re going to have things around the walls and different actors in costumes, like belly dancers and gypsies, running out through the audience and doing different things randomly throughout the audience. And then we’re going to have a real runway part.”
Although the date has not yet been set for the show, plenty of ideas have been bouncing around. The theme will be sideshows.
“It’s an interest both of us have had for a long time,” Champagne said. “We both are interested in the same aspects of sideshows. I’m very big on historical work, as far as that goes. I’m doing a lot of research on how sideshows are put together. She just wants to make a carnival out of the models, attaching Siamese twins and things like that. It’s basically taking two views of the same idea and morphing them into one show.”
So far, Kurrus’ art has brought her recognition and local support. In the future, she hopes she can give back by helping others express themselves. To do that, she’s planning to get a master’s degree in art therapy, something she’s always been interested in, she said.
“(Art therapy) encompasses a lot. Lots of it is working with kids or crazy people or old people or yuppies trying to get in touch with their inner whatever,” she said. “It could either be something as simple as someone expressing themselves through the art process, or it could be really complicated, like interpreting (a person’s) problems through the art they make.”
Already preparing for the future, Kurrus has signed up to help the on-campus Jewish center Hillel run an art therapy program. Although a date has not yet been scheduled, according to a Hillel representative, the session will happen on a Sunday in March following one of their bagel brunches.
With so little time to juggle all her interests, Kurrus has been finding ways to channel her inspiration, although she’s not always sure how it comes about.
“I don’t feel like I’m randomly doing things. I feel like I’m doing something specific, (but) I just am unaware of what it is until after it’s done. But something inside of me knows what’s up,” she said.
The creatures and figments in Kurrus’ art are based on real concepts. Transformed through her imagination, they become symbols for fun, childhood and lost love. They come out during the creative process, but their meaning is unclear even to Kurrus or others.
“Her stuff is for appearance’s sake,” Champagne said. “She doesn’t have any kind of deep meaning behind it, and a lot of the time it’s much more appreciated. I do things a lot of the time for statement factors, but she puts a lot more heart and soul into her work, trying to make it better.”