X-ray art

xray art fishX-ray style art is a manner of depicting animals and humans by drawing or painting the skeletal frame and internal organs. No x-ray machines are used in the creation of this type of art; it is a very old art form known since the Mesolithic era. Many different prehistoric hunting cultures produced x-ray style art, and some contemporary peoples are still creating this type of art today. There are for instance notable examples of now-living artists belonging to the Indigenous peoples of Australia who are still producing x-ray style art in accordance with their cultural heritage.

The size of the old x-ray style figures that have survived into our time varies greatly from one location to another. Some of the largest ones are around 2.5 meters in length.

The style also varies. Some x-ray style paintings do for instance feature delicate polychromed depictions of the interior cavity of animals, while others only have an outline and a skeleton, while the interior organs are symbolized by a lifeline that runs horizontally from the mouth to the anus of the animal. Sometimes, the lifeline only runs from the mouth to a dot that represents the heart or the stomach.

Modern X-ray art has never really found widespread appeal, and it is still very much a niche scene.  The works of many artists can still be bought rather cheap. High-quality x-ray art can be a good investment.  If you want to invest in X-ray art then it is essential that you know that it is a high-risk investment.  It is far from certain that the values will go up.  Buying X-ray art is like buying binary options. It is not like buying blue-chip stock.  IE it is a high risk, high reward type investment.


xray artExamples of regions where very old x-ray style art has been found:

  • Northern EuropeX-ray art was produced here during the Mesolithic era, from circa 8,000 to 2,700 BCE.
  • The Arctic Circle
  • North America
  • Siberia
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • New Guinea, including New Ireland
  • Australia

In many parts of the world, x-ray style art seems to be connected to hunting cultures.

X-ray style art in prehistoric Korea

Evidence of a Siberian x-ray style art tradition has been found on the Korean peninsula and dated to prehistoric Korea. In 1970, a rock-cut drawing was discovered at Pan’ gudae, near South Korea’s southeastern coast. It contained pecked line drawings and silhouettes of animals and humans, including land mammals such as tigers, wolves and deer, and marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. The humans depicted included hunters, a fisherman and a shaman.

The drawings had been made on a large (circa 8 meters by 2 meters) smooth vertical rock surface. Some of the animals have the characteristic Siberian x-ray style lifeline that runs from the mouth to the anus.

X-ray style art in Australia

X-ray style art is one of many art forms traditional made by the Indigenous peoples of Australia. Indigenous Australian art, also known as Australian Aboriginal art, includes a vast array of art forms – such as wood carving, rock carving, sculpting, leaf painting, dot painting, sand painting, and more – and some of it is x-ray style art.

X-ray style art was created prior to European contact and the production continued through the colonization era and into our time. There are still Indigenous artists in Australia that make x-ray style art.

When it comes to rock painting, x-ray style art is known from the Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park regions of the Northern Territory. Here, skeletons and viscera of animals and humans are traditionally portrayed by drawing inside the outline, as if by cross section. The female form, especially the female womb, drawn in x-ray style is a common motif at some of the famous sites in Arnhem Land.

Arnhem Land is one of five regions that make up the Northern Territory of Australia. With its roughly 97,000 square kilometres, Arnhem Land is larger than the U.S. state of Indiana, but home to only 16,000 people. Of these approximately 16,000 residents, roughly 12,000 are Yolngu, the aboriginal owners of this region.

Aboriginal rock art sites in the Kakadu National ParkAboriginal rock art sites in the Kakadu National Park

The Kakadu National Park is a protected area within the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory. With its 19.8 square kilometres, the park is roughly the same size as the European country Slovenia.

Within the park, you’ll find the Aboriginal art sites Ubirr, Burrunguy (Nourlangie Rock) and Nanguluwur which are all recognized as outstanding examples of Aboriginal rock art in Australia.

Examples of animals depicted in the main gallery of Ubirr are a snake-necked turtle, pig-nosed turtle, wallaby, thylacine (a now extinct carnivorous marsupial), rock-haunting ringtail possum, Asian sea bass, mullet, catfish, and goana (a type of monitor lizard).

Leslie Nawirridj

Leslie NawirridjOne example of a contemporary artist who is carrying on the Australian legacy of x-ray style art is Leslie Nawirridj, who lives in Arnhem Land and creates in the style of the Kunwinjku Aboriginal people. Examples of animals that he often depicts are kangaroos, crocodiles and echidnas.

The ancestors of the Kunwinjku painted x-ray style art on the rocks of Western Arnhem Land, using a type of fine-line cross-hatching known as rarrk. Nawirridj carries on the tradition of rarrk even though he tends to paint on canvas, not rock.

On Saturdays, Nawirridj sells his paintings from his stall at the Parap Village Markets, a group of art and crafts markets located in Darwin. His artworks are also available for purchase online at kunwinjku-aboriginal-art.com.