Varieties of Aboriginal Visual Storytelling Techniques

Intricate, captivating and expressive in equal nature, dot painting may be the most recognisable style of Aboriginal art, but it’s not the only form of visual storytelling. In fact, Indigenous artists and clans from different regions across Australia utilise a diverse array of unique mark making and painting techniques.

Cross hatching art is defined by the use of geometric and dynamic lines that create abstract patterns and fill figures with a sense of spiritual weight and power. Distinctive and immediately recognisable, Aboriginal cross hatching — also known as rarrk — is created by artists from the historic region of Arnhem Land. OzBid is proud to have stunning examples of this evocative and highly sought after art style in our collection.

The rich tradition of Aboriginal cross hatching in Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land is an area located at the northernmost point of Australia’s Northern Territory, and it spans 97,000 square kilometres of rugged coastline, warm tropical waters and breathtaking scenery. Characterised by its vast sandstone landscapes, thriving river systems, and lush green jungles, forests and mangroves, these natural phenomena form an intrinsic part of the work produced by Arnhem Land artists.

This area is home to the Gupapuyngu, Rembarrnga, Liyagawumirr, Manyarrngu, Balmbi, Kuninjku, Ganalbingu, Galpu, Liyagalawumirr, Wagilag, Wudumin and Marrangu-Wurrkiganydjarr commmunities, among others. Many of these First Peoples are known collectively as Yolngu. Drawing from the region’s long, illustrious history of painting and sculpture as a cultural and spiritual practice, Arnhem Land artists are recognised for producing some of the most diverse and distinct art of First Nations people.

Aboriginal cross hatching is used widely in this region by artists of many different clans. The dynamic lines associated with rarrk are inspired by traditional body painting practices used in ceremonies. Its themes are carried through in both abstract, geometric work and more figurative representations of animals and ancestral figures.

A cultural practice passed down through the generations

The use of Aboriginal cross hatching in painting is a right within Arnhem Land, one which is usually inherited patrilineally. Traditionally using a brush made from reeds or human hair, artists will paint the story of their father and sometimes their mother, imparting the themes that have been expressed on bark, cave walls and human bodies for generations.

These stories come to life through canvas paintings, sculpture, memorial log coffins, bark paintings and more in our collection of cross hatching art at Ozbid. Whether you’re looking for a unique piece for your home or investing in a piece of history, our Aboriginal art auctions allow you to get the best price on unique original pieces.

Cross hatching in Aboriginal art ‘X-ray’ paintings

Ever since canvas painting was introduced into the practice of Australian First Nations artists in the 1970s, Arnhem Land’s dynamic rarrk art style has continued to flourish. One of the most stunning unique examples of art from this area is the X-ray painting, a tradition that dates back thousands of years and continues to be developed by modern artists to this day.

To create this style, fine cross hatched lines fill the figure of an animal, such as a fish, bird or kangaroo. The innards are sometimes depicted figuratively, using geometric shapes and linework, and other times literally — with lines that represent bones and other organs. An iconic style that is highly sought after, OzBid is proud to have acclaimed rarrk X-ray paintings available in our auction.

Features depicted in Aboriginal rarrk paintings

You’ll often find a wide range of diverse landscapes and natural features depicted in rarrk paintings. But did you know that clans from different regions have different ways of depicting mountains, lakes, and other landforms in their art practice? No two clans are exactly alike, so these places hold their own significance for each artist.

Gulun — the waterhole

For many First Nation peoples, the waterhole is an important and recurring motif. Aside from its functional use — to collect drinking water — billabongs, pools and waterholes have long been key locations for occasions of gathering and community. The Djambarrpuyngu word ‘gulun’ means ‘waterhole’ or ‘fresh water drinking spot’, but it also is used as a term for a woman’s stomach or womb. Waterholes hold the potential of unborn spirits and the presence of deceased ones.

Ragni/Monuk — oceans/beaches

The ocean has always drawn populations to dwell on the beaches and coastlines of Arnhem Land, be it to fish, hunt, or enjoy abundant food sources on land. Many ocean-dwelling creatures have had their life cycles recorded in song and dance form by Aboriginal people, and their presence is also felt deeply within rarrk art.

Retja — the jungle

Pockets of lush rainforest appear around Arnhem Land, often nourished by springs which give them their dense green foliage. Yolngu people hold these sites sacred, and they are home to many spirits, including a frog spirit, a spider spirit, and the spirits that have come to be associated with the morning star. The jungle is also a valuable source of bark, used for making string and for other practical purposes.

Larrtha — the mangroves

Both the Manyarrngu and Liyagawumirr people originate from the mangroves, which occupy the river banks and tidal flats where the coastline meets the land. The Djan Kawu — ancestral beings described in the mythology of the Dhuwa moiety — gave birth to these communities here, and the mangroves continue to feature in artworks from the Glyde River region in Arnhem Land.

Diljit — forests

Central Arnhem Land boasts abundant swathes of eucalyptus forests that teem with honey and insect life, animals and spirits. Much of the rarrk art from the forest region is vertically oriented and painted on tree bark, a nod to the upwards growth of the eucalyptus tree. The Djambarrpuyngu word ‘diltji’ means both ‘tree covered landscape’ but also ‘backbone’. Like the backbone of the kangaroo, the forest is the backbone of a rich and complex ecosystem.

Ninydjia — plains

European colonists often imagined Australia’s vast plains as an endless and unchanging landscape with stark and featureless expanses, but the Yolngu people documented the incredible changes these plains undergo throughout the seasons. Tropical flood plains burst with lush vegetation during monsoon season, flooding fields for spearfishing — or they’re fired for hunting drives, after which the blackened growth is reborn with new shoots of life. All of these cycles and changes are documented through cross hatching art from the plains.

Invest in genuine cross hatching art with provenance you can trust

The different styles of cross hatching art are closely tied to specific social groupings or clans, and are connected to a wider culture and tradition of language, Dreaming, Country and common ancestry. All of the artists featured at Ozbid tell unique stories within their Aboriginal cross hatching art, weaving together the past and present in an intricate map of meaning.

At OzBid, we work directly with our talented artists from Arnhem Land, so you can always be assured of the provenance of your purchased artwork. The pricing guides available for every one of our featured pieces allow for total transparency, giving you the opportunity to review each artwork in detail before its online auction.

Choose the better art dealers with OzBId

OzBid is Australia’s largest dealer of Australian Aboriginal art by volume, allowing us to offer our unique collection at highly competitive prices compared to galleries and other retailers. Our relationships with the artists of Arnhem Land and across Australia allow us to guarantee the provenance of each piece, and our collection is always ethically sourced. Our affordable and high quality collection of Aboriginal cross hatching art showcases the best emerging and established talent in the art world.

Our simple and transparent online auction system makes it easy for you to choose a piece for your home or office, no matter your budget. With works in every price range, it’s never been easier to own a piece of Indigenous art history. Our team is here to help you navigate our selection of Aboriginal cross hatching, so you can find a piece that fits your specifications perfectly. Contact us for more information on any of the artworks in our collection.

Enjoy VIP shipping on Aboriginal cross hatching art

When you buy Aboriginal cross hatching art from OzBid, we make it easy to receive your artwork safely, whether you’re located locally, nationally or internationally. For works with a total value of up to $5000, free shipping is available to all Australian capital cities and surrounding metro areas excluding Darwin. Orders from the Sydney metropolitan area can take advantage of our local door to door service, while interstate deliveries are carefully packaged and tracked throughout their journey.

For our international customers, OzBid has a range of options to ensure the safe receipt of your Indigenous artworks. We recruit a range of service providers and couriers to offer you economical quotes and make sure you receive your new artwork in a timely manner.


What is cross hatching in Aboriginal art?

Cross hatching in Aboriginal art is both a technique and a unique practice which relates to culture, Country and the story of one’s people. As a unique feature of Arnhem Land Indigenous art, cross hatching captures a sense of animating movement in both patterns and figures which can represent the power and presence of spirits. Painting in this style is not just a mode of self expression for its own sake. Rarrk painting is a right which must be properly earned within community, and it is used to continue telling the story of the artist’s family, most often on their father’s side.

Cross hatching, much like Aboriginal dot painting, also encodes deeper meanings and messages within its hypnotic repetitive patterns. The knowledge contained in these pieces is often sacred to a specific clan or people, and not to be openly shared with outsiders. Through the practice of cross hatching, artists are able to share this knowledge in a veiled way, protecting its full meaning.

What is Rarrk?

Cross hatching appears in traditional and modern art from cultures all over the world. Rarrk, however, is a term specific to the artists of Arnhem Land, with particularly iconic examples from Western Arnhem Land. Rarrk refers to a rhythmic, repetitive grid of interlocking lines that can form intricate and highly symbolic abstract pieces or fill the shapes of animal and human figures.

Unlike the flowing, organic shapes of bush medicine leaves in Aboriginal art, cross hatching creates an almost shimmering quality, one which evokes the spiritual presence and power of their ancestors. It can be used to create rigid pieces with angular lines, or deployed as a delicate shape-filler.

What elements of art are cross hatching?

The cross hatching technique can be used as an element in a variety of compositions. Sometimes, it takes on an almost architectural quality, creating beams and connections between patterns in an abstract series of forms. On bark paintings and ceremonial log coffins, it can be used to reinforce the dramatic vertical shape of the canvas itself. In X-ray rarrk paintings and representational work, cross hatching is used in place of static block colours to fill the figure with an animating spirit and dynamism.

How do you make cross hatching art?

Long before stretched canvases and modern painting mediums, Aboiriginal people in Arnhem Land were creating cross hatching art on bark and wood, in cave paintings, and as part of ceremonial body painting for dance and corroboree. Traditionally, very fine parallel lines were created using thin reeds — or human hair — and rich earth toned ochre. These techniques are still used today, as well as modern brushes. The practice of creating these dazzling pieces is still ultimately made by human hands, which carefully apply each individual cross hatch until the final result is achieved.