LAKELAND — There’s one less colorful work of art hanging in downtown Lakeland after some viewers complained its imagery was inappropriate for the public.
Lakeland artist Aaron Corbitt announced Sunday that one of his paintings made for the “Tapestries Lakeland” project had been taken down after several complaints were made that it appeared to be “satanic.” His Facebook post quickly received more than 240 comments and nearly 300 shares.
“I would like to publicly apologize for anyone who is offended by this piece, and also to state that never in my career would I intentionally insult or offend a religion or culture with my artwork,” Corbitt wrote. “My intentions for this painting were strictly personal, dealing only with my abuse with alcohol that led me to a downward spiral that almost cost me everything, my friends, my family, my beautiful dear wife and ultimately my own life.”
The roughly 7-by-9-foot painting titled “The Fall of Dionysus” was one of five in a mythological series mounted on the side of the Miller Building, located at 401 S. Florida Avenue. Each piece depicted different legendary scenes involving Greek gods including Hades, god of the underworld, and Zeus, god of thunder and ruler of Mount Olympus.
Corbitt said the removed work depicted Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, in a symbolic self-portrait surrounded by dark figures meant to represent various psychological aspects of his personal battle against alcoholism.
“[A]ll I wanted from the painting was to create an open dialogue about alcohol abuse,” Corbitt said, who has been sober for nearly two years.
The tapestry’s imagery and its possible interpretation was criticized in a Facebook post made by Lakeland resident Joel Vann that caught the attention of city officials including Mayor Bill Mutz, according to Lakeland spokesman Kevin Cook.
“The best I could interpret from looking at it, was that it seemed confusing, dark and satanic like to me,” Vann wrote in response to Corbitt’s Facebook post. “In my opinion, you have many great pieces that are suitable for a public space — however this particular piece is too subjective [and] made for a gallery, not the busiest street in Lakeland.”
Vann could not be reached for further comment. The mayor’s office also received a few phone calls and emails regarding the painting’s subject, according to Cook.
There is no sign or plaque next to the mythological series to give viewers insight to the artist’s meaning or description. However, detailed information on each Tapestries Lakeland painting is available by visiting the website of its creator David Nelson Collins at www.davidnelsoncollins.com.
Collins, who commissioned the works, said Corbitt’s piece was taken down late last week. The project founder said he and Corbitt discussed the social media criticism surrounding the painting and reached a mutual decision that it would be best to remove it.
“It wasn’t about anything satanic, but it was creating a controversy that was not the intent of the artist or my goal with the Tapestries project,” Collins said. “It saddens me to see how the piece was misconstrued when, in actuality, it’s a story of redemption.”
Some of more than 60 works created under Tapestries Lakeland have previously been moved or relocated, but this is first piece to be taken down. Collins said criticism surrounding this singular case will not change the criteria by which he evaluates future public installations.
“We’ve come a long way in public art in the last few years. I hope that this doesn’t affect how public art is viewed,” he said. “We’ve done what we think is right.”
The tapestry is not without a home. Collins said he would find a future site, perhaps indoors, where the public can still view it, even if not as prominently displayed.
Sara-Megan Walsh may be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7545.
This story originally published to theledger.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.