Skulls have been on the scene since well, humans. With their main association being death, they reap a pretty undeservedly bad rap. In reality, skulls are way more than a spherical mass of decayed bone, especially in the hands of artists.

We’re debunking the bad name of skulls and paying respects to their many forms and meanings. So, which skull are you?

1. The vanitas skull

dutch vanitas

Vanitas, composition with flowers and skull by Adriaen van Utrecht, 17th cen.

Vanitas paintings originated in the Netherlands during the 16th century. They were extremly symbolic, realistic still-life paintings meant to communicate the transition from earthy pleasures and the physical state to the after life. Skulls were major players in vanitas — stoic, symbolic, and indicative that all life is fleeting.

still life with pumpkin

Only for the Living by Nina Fanbunmi. 16″ x 12″, oil on hardwood panel, $500. Shop on Vango.


2. The ironic skull

The ironic skull, born less out of historical significance, and more out of pop culture humor, is a little bit like the hipster of the group.  It keeps things light, contrasting the “death” association of a skull with lighter aspects, like a mustache.

love skull

I Can’t Help It by David Aaron Smith, 15″ x 17″, ink and acrylic on woodboard, $500. Available on Vango.


Ghostly Vandals, 16″ x 20″, acrylic on canvas, $200. Available on Vango.

cheetah skull

Cheetah Skull with Flower Crown by April Best, 10″ x 8″, color pencil and graphite on paper, $300. Available on Vango.

3. The street art skull

This skull was  popularized with the rise of Jean Michel Basquiat in the 1980s on the streets of New York City. While Basquiat soon found his way into galleries and the inner circle of the art world, his art education and style, which we now call Neo-Expressionism, began on the streets. Today’s artists have carried on the raw, unrefined skulls that recurred in his work.

basquiat style skull

Summer of Love by Terry Urban, 19″ x 24″, $300. Available on Vango.

colour skull

Colour Skull, 8″ x 10″, watercolor on paper, $300. Available on Vango.

gimme shelter

Gimme Shelter by Terry Urban, 36″ x 36″, mixed-media on canvas, $750. Available on Vango.

4. The sugar skull

The sweetest skull of them all, the sugar skull finds its roots in Mexican culture,  specificically Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. This national holiday is a true celebration of family, ancestry, and those who have come before us. Ornate, edible skulls are made from sugar, decorated, and then offered up as festive gifts to the deceased.

vanity sugar skull

Vanity by Susan Peteres, 36″ x 36″, acrylic on canvas, $1300. Available on Vango.

dia de lose muertes

Dia de los Muertes by Rick Ruark, 24″ x 36″, acrylic on gessoboard, $600. Available on Vango.

Sugar Skull by Kimberly Lavon, 8" x 10", woodcut on paper, $100. Available on Vango.

Sugar Skull by Kimberly Lavon, 8″ x 10″, woodcut on paper, $100. Available on Vango.


To see every type of skull art imaginable, check out the full Skulls collection.

View Skulls Collection

Also published on Medium.