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The Treasure in the Trash

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Over the last couple of weeks, I have given a very brief description of a few of the many vast and differing tattoo styles. Each and every one can exist as its own blog topic, and over the course of my apprenticeship at Speakeasy Tattoo I will take time here and there to go into more detail. So, here is a technique that definitely deserves a much more in depth description. The technique I am referring to is Trash Polka.

Throughout art history we have seen a journey and behavior of expression that forms. One of the most beautiful things about studying the history of tattoo is seeing how it maintains a relevance in the practice of fine art. Just as fine art has followed a lineage, so does the art of tattoo. From prehistoric cave paintings to the renaissance, modernism, all the way to pop art and performance pieces; tattoo art has transitioned from tribal, to traditional, neo traditional, and into trash polka, just to name a few.

The Trash Polka style is one that stands apart from many others in a crowd. This unique and singular tattoo style displays the convergence of the many tattoo styles and an evolution in the tattoo world mimicking the path of fine art. Trash Polka can be compared to the movement of pop art and collage work. This style was first devolved at Buena Vista Tattoo Club in Würzburg, Germany by Simone Plaff and Volko Merschky. This style combines smudges and realistic images in kinetic landscapes that generate a dissonant but intriguing piece. Valco has said that this style is “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”. The color palette for Trash Polka is extremely limited with only the use of bold black and red. And, much similar to Champagne only being from Champagne France, true Trash Polka can only come out of the Buena Vista Tattoo Club. Of course, many artist are beginning to imitate this style and will build upon and reconstruct from this technique eventually causing a metamorphose into another art form to be studied.

There are a couple of things to think about in considering a tattoo in this style. Red and black ink tend to fade very easily. One of the main draws to Trash polka style is that It is meant to have a very “fresh” look. These very graphic and bold tattoos are to be seen as if they are just freshly tattooed. Trash Polka is such a newly developed technique that it is yet to be seen how these tattoos will hold up after ageing.  As with any tattoo, but especially with Trash Polka, use lots and lots of sunscreen. There is no point in spending a ton of cash to get a really epic tattoo if you are just going to let it fade away by something you can easily control. Also, true Trash Polka is a conglomeration or collage of many different elements and ideas. Which means, each idea behind a certain image may not fit together with something else in the same tattoo. Hence, the trash part of the name. So, this may make it difficult to place a lot of meaning behind the totality of the tattoo. Remember, the point is that, it is a bit of trash thrown together. All and all though, any good artist can design a Trash style tattoo where all the elements ultimately define the overall image.

This design that is featured is my own take on Trash Polka style. Although I did try to maintain a running theme. It contains the elements of a tiger, alongside a warrior with the Japanese rising sun and a little Kanji calligraphy meaning virtue and goodness.

No matter what style you choose, you should want it to be timeless. This technique tends to be both loved and hated. As always, with research and time you will find the perfect tattoo that is meant for your skin.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” -unknown-

Happy healing,


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