Published On Mar 8, 2021
By Luba Lesychyn

The Balancing Act Unravels – Painting by Lorie Schinko – 2000

A Nebulous Number of Days of Atomity and Memory

The Balancing Act Unravels

If you’ve ever participated in a virtual meeting with me, you will likely have seen a portion of this painting, Lorie Schinko’s The Balancing Act Unravels, in the background. It’s also the backdrop of the headshot that appears on my first book, Theft By Chocolate. Schinko is best known for her whimsical and vibrant ceramic art which was often available for purchase at The Gardiner Museum, an exquisite ceramic museum located directly across the street from Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, where I worked for more than twenty years. But for the longest time, I had no idea that Schinko was also a painter of imposing and vivid oil tableaux.

When I moved to my compact condominium, I had so many items I could have used to decorate my walls, including an extensive and beloved collection of ceramic masks that I had been accumulating for decades. But I sold off most of those pieces and decided instead to follow the advice of a designer on a television decorating show who said something to the effect of “if you live in a small space, don’t be afraid of grand pieces of art that make a statement.” I didn’t possess any such works at the time, but one day, while ambling down Toronto’s artsy Queen Street West neighbourhood, I stumbled upon a gallery that featured Schinko’s playful ceramic work as well as several of her arresting paintings.

I was particularly drawn to two of her pieces, but I could afford neither. Yet, I kept returning to the gallery repeatedly. The staff probably thought I was scoping out the premises for a heist. In fact, I was determined to purchase one of the oeuvres, but I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it because the gallery, as I had discovered on one of my visits, curiously did not accept credit cards. It’s not that it was in the thousands of dollars, it was just that I was struggling financially at the time, and even after downsizing households, I was cash poor. But so convinced was I that this painting would look spectacular on my aubergine wall, that I negotiated with the gallery owner to pay for the painting in instalments. So, many, many months later I settled my final payment and the painting was mine, all mine, and it has held this position of prominence in my living room ever since. Ironically, most days I am oblivious to its singularity and am usually only reminded of its intrigue when someone with whom I’m in a virtual meeting takes notice and comments on the work.

But I have to confess, it was the colours of the painting and the fact that there were several masks in the scene that appealed to me the most. I hadn’t fully scrutinized the full composition of the painting before deciding to provide it with a home. So, it wasn’t until it was hanging in my living room that I fully appreciated the somewhat ominous subject matter – a woman plummeting to the earth after the tightrope that was supporting her had snapped in two. In fact, I started to feel uneasy about possessing this grandiose image of someone freefalling.  

I began to question whether such a message was serving me in an energetically positive way. Was that me on the tightrope? Was I on the verge of coming undone? Or perhaps, I had already lost myself and fallen. But despite the discomfort I felt, I held onto the painting – after all, this was the most I had ever invested in a piece of art and I felt selling it would symbolize some kind of defeat.

As the years passed, however, a shift started to take place. I had become a seeker, was trying to figure out what my dharma was, and I was on a path to finding some kind of profound meaning behind my day-to-day existence. With that, my interpretation of the painting started to morph into something much more affirming and resonant.

I had become aware of the concept of shedding veils as we reveal more and more of our authentic selves. There are no veils in this painting, but besides the mask resting on the woman’s face, there are several masks floating about, as if she had already rid herself of several layers of guises. I asked myself whether the reason I had spent so much time collecting masks earlier in my life signified that I was unconsciously disguising my true self? Was I shielding my eyes from something I did not want to see, was afraid to see, was incapable of seeing? Was I more comfortable with this painting now that I was finally beginning to see, really to see for the first time, having shed a veil or two already?

And what of the image of a woman falling, letting go of the one implement assisting with her balancing act (the umbrella), and her sole support (the tightrope) literally unravelling beneath her? One might presume there could be no positive understanding of these elements. But the opposite is now the case for me. It represents someone who is finally freed and divested of the imagined things upon which she presumed herself to be dependent. She now possesses trust in the universe and has surrendered to its natural flow. There is no sign of panic on her face. She is not falling – she is untethered. Pretensions have been removed and she is no longer a prisoner to an imagined precarious life ahead. She’s still masked, but only because she has so much more to learn, to still see, and perhaps most importantly, to unsee.  

Before writing this piece, I did an Internet search on the artist and, remarkably, found little available. Most of the information online is about her work as a ceramic artist and there is nothing on the painting in my possession. But I appreciate the freedom to construe the subject of it my own way. I have been given free reign to interpret the work as a representation of my journey towards authenticity. I think I’ll keep it.