An introduction to the trash polka tattoo style

A month ago, the phrase ‘trash polka tattoo’ meant absolutely nothing to Inkluded guest blogger Adam. He went off to explore more.

Read more about other tattoo styles: Different tattoo styles explained

I love discovering new and emerging tattoo styles. After burying my head in the world of trash polka this week, I can now report that I am hooked on it!

Trash Polka Tattoo

Photo: Instagram – Volko Merschky & Simone Pfaff, Buena Vista Tattoo Club, Germany: @buenavistatattooclub

The trash polka tattoo came about in July 2014 and is now a surging new style of art currently sweeping the US and Europe. When I first started checking it out, I thought it might have originated in Japan. Some designs were very reminiscent of Japanese art, specifically the heavy block use of black and red.

The unique style of trash polka, however, is actually specifically attributed to a studio in Germany called Buena Vista Tattoo Club and two of its artists, Simone Plaff and Volko Merschky. 

Trash Polka Tattoo

Photo: Instagram – Volvo Merschky & Simone Pfaff, Buena Vista Tattoo Club, Germany: @buenavistatattooclub

Combining a minimalist use of colours with striking shapes, it’s easy to see why this style is growing in popularity.

Volko was quoted as explaining the trash polka form as “realism and trash; the nature and the abstract; technology and humanity; past, present, and future… opposites that they are trying to urge into a creative dance to harmony and rhythm in tune with the body.”

With an artistic style like trash polka, you can bring together the weird and wonderful and make it work. Reality mixed with fantasy can be a difficult thing to achieve. Here, it succeeds completely.

Trash Polka Tattoo

Photo: Instagram – Fenando Shimizu, Shimizu Tattoo Studio, Brazil: @fernandoshimizu

It’s clear that this style thrives on a large canvas. If you’re planning a trash polka tattoo, you may want to think long and hard about exactly what, and where, you want it. If bigger is better, that means you’ll need more investment in planning.

Maybe you don’t need to feel constrained to the black and red colour palette either. Even though the style lends itself to those colours, many artists are already branching out. Styles evolve, and that’s what makes tattoo art so exciting.

The question left unanswered is – if a tattoo is created using differing colours and shapes, and even created by anyone other than these two founding artists, can it even be labelled as ‘trash polka’ at all? Discuss!

For me, no matter how it is categorised, discovering new ways that artists are approaching tattoos makes me (as a tattoo client and writer) truly enthusiastic and inquisitive about what the future holds for tattoo culture.

Trash Polka Tattoos

Photo: Instagram – [Artist Unknown] Thompson Tattoo Company, USA: @GMFP208

Trash Polka Tattoos

Photo: Instagram – [Artist Unknown] Forever Ink, Italy: @mabtattoo

Words: Adam Windsor
Photos: Instagram, Various, As Credited


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