The head of a rabbit and the body of a snake, this is the mark of an artist. If you're walking down South First Street, you will likely see this Frankenstein animal on most telephone poles but may ask what its purpose is.
By Liam Alteneder
On South First, between Barton Springs Road and West Oltorf Street, exists a strip of road that embodies the “Keep Austin Weird” mantra. Lined with local businesses, coffee shops and restaurants, South First is a piece of Austin that has yet to be permeated by chain companies. However, something noticeably different about this area are the telephone poles and more specifically the art that embellishes them.
Walking down South First, many of the local businesses know of the man who decorates the telephone poles outside. “His sign is the snake with the rabbit head," says Luis Reyes of El Primo taco truck. "I haven’t seen him for a while, but he used to come by often."
Rabbit Snake discussed the origins of this name. “Why Rabbit Snake? It's was one of those things that came after me more than I flushed it out," says Rabbit Snake, who preferred to be address by his franken-animal character name. "Rabbits are a symbol of fertility and creativity and snakes, in this context to me, are a symbol of healing so maybe it’s ‘healing through creativity.'"
Rabbit Snake and his “deconstructed totem poles” have shaped the neighborhood, making canvases of the wood beams. “I hurt for the phone poles,” Rabbit Snake says. “Imagine being torn away from your family, stripped naked and becoming a slave for the communications of the people who tore you away from your family.” He sees his street art in some ways giving the poles a sort of self-expression.
Under the alias “Johnny Stranger,” the artist held art shows in the past showcasing his painting and photography, but has recently turned to his Rabbit Snake street art persona. “I want the freedom to do what I want, put it out and say ‘ok hang it’,” Rabbit Snake says. “There’s a lot of great artists in the world but a lot of them are working to create someone else’s vision.”
The Rabbit Snake mark can be found around all Austin, but the heart of the telephone pole art is on South First. He uses chain businesses to set the boundaries of the area from the Whataburger on the corner of Barton Springs road to the Starbucks on West Oltorf street. “This neighborhood where these telephone poles are is kind of like one of the last little pockets of Austin and it’s definitely in danger of some kind of homogenizing encroachment of a different type of community,” Rabbit Snake says.
His street art isn’t a form of self-expression or to convey a message but ultimately to bring “blessings” to the people that see it, hopefully bringing you “closer to your truth.”