In some ways, Michele Guiol is trapped by circumstance. Three years ago, her son, local artist and graphic designer Steven Darrow, was injured in a bicycle accident. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that has left him in need of constant care and unable to return to his work. His life, and the lives of those around him, have significantly changed.
Guiol, 50, wants to break free from pity, though. She has found a new outlet through art, working to out-create her own situation with assemblages of mixed media that often carry deep and symbolic meanings. Her first show, “Discombobulation,” debuts Friday at Bella Luz in Old Town.
“After Steven’s accident, I really had a hard time dealing. When the three-year mark came, I wanted to do something creative with it,” she said. “I’m really tired of just moping around and being depressed about this. I started thinking about broken things, like how Steven’s head is broken from the accident. I saw this baby doll that was broken in pieces and thought it was symbolic of my life.”
That doll became a catalyst for Guiol to explore her grief through art. She began putting together objects, materials and artifacts that are broken and bound. An English teacher at Derby High School, she said she’s always had a creative streak. Though she’s long worked with crafts, she never has considered herself an artist.
“It’s a different kind of grieving for me,” she said. “Steven is bound by his injury, and I’m just bound by circumstance. I’m a single mom, and I’m raising a grown son. A good way for me to deal with my grief is to just get lost, and the way I get lost is to go out into the garage and put something together. It’s a way for me to escape and do something for myself.”
The materials that she uses are all found objects, liberated from thrift stores, estate sales and other random places. They include book covers, figurines, wooden boxes, knick-knacks and pretty much anything that helps convey a central message. Guiol said that her works represent objects that are caged in some way. They depict people or possessions inherently trapped by circumstance.
“Fish Net” features a wooden fish inside a box caught up in netting. “Measure of a Man” focuses on a guy trapped inside a wooden coffin lined with rulers, bound by wire and unable to move. “Trophy Wife” highlights an encased doll offered up for display. Sometimes human circumstances — such as gender, sexual orientation or social position — are represented. Other times, it’s animals, including birds or butterflies that can get trapped by life’s dealings. All of her works have a pun in their title, making the name as important as the piece itself.
“I just want to get the message out there and have people take the time to pause and get what I am trying to say,” she said. “Life is very random. It’s a series of random events that just somehow keep us connected. I’m part of that broken wheel. We’re all a part of it in some way. If I can laugh a little at those circumstances, I am OK. We’ll all be OK.”
Though she and her son have faced quite an ordeal during the past three years, Guiol said she is aiming to focus on hope. Part of that is working through her pain and believing that Darrow will one day escape his limitations.
“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for us,” she said. “Everybody has had something broken. We’re all broken in some way. The more I acknowledge my brokenness, the more I see it in others. Everyone deals with their own universal brokenness.”