In Snakeman, Basquiat relied on montage and fragments of written text to form an abstract design. Different mediums have been used including acrylic, crayon and charcoal. Snakeman is classified as part of the Neo-expressionism or Neue Wilden movement.
Snakeman and Spontaneity
Snakeman embodies the frantic pace that Basquiat often worked at. It conveys a hurried, spontaneous image. The background of the picture gradually changes in colour from cream in the bottom left-hand corner to a deeper shade of gold at the top right. At the midway point where the colour change is most noticeable, is the supposed transformation of the snakeman himself. There is no longer a man visible, but there is a roughly scratched snake in the form of an elongated letter 'S'. It's surrounded by a dense cloud of energetic red smoke. This centralised subject is cartoon in style and echoes the popular superhero genre. The flags bearing a letter 'S' in the top right emphasise this idea. Philosophically, the painting represents how everyone has the ability to change their persona or life.
Snakeman is also a continuation of the street art which originally brought Basquiat to public attention in the late 1970s. The large fragment of text to the right features a partly obscured dragon and lists of random words. However, some of these such as 'Cinderella' are linked to the central theme of transformation. Words such as 'Evergreen' and 'Immortality' are balanced with the fragment on the left-hand side which lists precious metals. They introduce secondary themes of longevity and value.
Suspicion versus Trust
Many of Basquiat's illustrations include sharp contradictions and social comment. The list at the bottom right includes the words 'Tanks', 'Cruisers' and 'Rifleman'. They indicate the conflict that often arises when something unfamiliar is introduced into society. The contradiction is continued by the cartoon heads at the top of the painting. The left-hand head is labelled as 'Skin Head', a term often associated with aggression. It's balanced on the right by the partly written 'Liberty' and a head quoting 'In God We Trust'. This phrase has been included on American currency from 1955 although Basquiat has written the date as 1951. Snakeman measures 57 cm by 76.5 cm. It forms part of the Daros collection in Zurich, Switzerland.