Wendy “MoMa” Michel makes art that may resonate with anyone for whom life is a puzzle.
Michel is the featured artist at Artists For Humanity’s Open Studio event Tuesday, May 30. The event spotlights Michel’s exhibition and offers studio tours with teen artists and designers at the nonprofit, which provides Boston teens employment in art and design. Michel, 31, is an alumna.
Her exhibition, “CROWN by MoMa,” includes an interactive component of black-and-white paintings that function as puzzle pieces. All the works stem from an intricate line drawing of a face Michel made in 2016. She was grieving, depressed, and anxious after losing her partner in a car crash, she said. That’s when Michel, who considers herself spiritual, sensed what she should do next; she heard a voice within, whom she identifies as Spirit, call her to action.
“I meditated one night, and I felt Spirit say, ‘Create, it will free you,’” the artist told the Globe over Zoom from the AFH studios last week. “I took a pen, and this is what was birthed.”
Michel scanned the drawing and digitally cropped it into a grid-like puzzle. She has since exhibited “CROWN” in New York, Los Angeles, and in Boston at a pop-up show in 2017, when she was known as Wendy Darling. She talked with viewers as they put puzzle pieces together.
“I started to open up about what I was going through. And before you know it, they’re opening up to me about what they’re going through,” Michel said. “People felt safe and comfortable and free to talk.”
“CROWN,” she said, seemed to help people.
“They were prompted to confront what I think could represent chaos,” Michel said.
This show launches a project that will break the image into 1,000 pieces. She hopes to exhibit 20 new works — each a fraction of the puzzle — at 50 successive exhibitions nationally and internationally. The effect is abstract, and how you fit the fragments together may or may not lead to something recognizable, like a nostril.
“The uncertainty is part of this process,” said Brenda Leong, AFH’s director of curatorial affairs.
Michel is partnering with architect Abigail Keilman to launch a company, MINDART, extrapolating from the healing process she experienced with “CROWN.” The two hope to establish a creative wellness center. To that end, the artist has just completed MIT’s Start Smart class for entrepreneurs.
She first learned how to turn her passion into a business as a teen at AFH. Being back, she said in an e-mail, “feels like a profound completion of a circle.”
CROWN by MoMa
At Artists For Humanity Open Studio, Tuesday, May 30, 5-7 p.m. AFH Gallery, 100 W. 2nd St. Exhibition is on view through July 16, open by appointment (e-mail art@AFH Boston.org). www.afhboston.org/event/open-studio-may-2023