Artwork Details

David McGee

b. 1962

Snake Baby
Oil on canvas
75 9/16 x 66 inches
Not on view
Accession Number
Dana Friis-Hansen and Mark Holzbach

About the Artwork

David McGee’s figurative paintings draw from traditional European portraiture and history painting, and on his own identity as an artist, as a man, and as a Black American.

The source for this dramatic self-portrait, Snake Baby, is a family legend: one day when McGee’s mother was pregnant with him, she and other family members were working in the fields of her father-in-law’s Louisiana farm. Her mother-in-law was struck by a vision that a poisonous snake threatened McGee’s mother and immediately shouted a warning across the field. When McGee’s mother heard the shout, she looked down to see a water moccasin, and managed to escape without getting bitten. This vision was seen as a positive omen and led to McGee, the first grandchild, being nicknamed Snake Baby. He thinks of this painting as both honoring his lineage and lampooning his attempt to live up to his family’s enormous expectations of him.