What Are Trash Polka Tattoos & Where Did the Style Originate?

Posted on 02 September 2012 by Karen L. Hudson

There’s some buzz going around about “Trash Polka” tattoos as being a specific style of tattoo. It’s interesting to see how people react when the topic is mentioned; it seems most people either love them or hate them – there’s no middle ground. But what is it?

Trash Polka Tattoo - Buena Vista Tattoo Club

The term/phrase actually belongs to the artists who coined it: Volko Merschky and Simone Pfaff, who own Buena Vista Tattoo Club in Würzburg, Germany. The phrase itself goes back to 1859, when the Tritsch Tratsch Polka, an upbeat classical piece of music, was written by Johann Strauss II. The style of that Strauss composition is reminiscent of the music that Volko and Simone both enjoy and play when they’re not tattooing.

Volko and Simone decided they wanted to experiment with tattooing in a unique way, and they created a painterly style, but with the influence of musical intonations in the art itself. Volko describes Trash Polka as “a fusion of 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.” Anyway, they decided to give this unique approach to tattooing a name, so they called it “Realistic Trash Polka”, which has been shortened to just Trash Polka by many fans.

Now the term “Trash Polka” has become a catch-phrase to describe a variety of bold, painterly-style tattoos, particularly those done only in black and red inks. But true Trash Polka can only be executed by the artists who created it. Anything else is an imitation and should at least credit the source. Maybe the rest of the world should call it “Buena Vista” style or “Volko & Simone” style. What do you think?

It's Only Trash Polka if it Comes from Buena Vista Tattoo Club

So, are you on the “love it” or “hate it” side of the trash polka tattoo? Personally, I love it. It’s a very powerful adaptation of the painterly style, which is probably my favorite style of tattoo. Some artists say it won’t stand the test of time – I guess we’ll just have to see about that. Come back in 20 years and we’ll ask Volko and Simone how their clients’ tattoos are doing. ;)

Be sure to visit the Buena Vista Tattoo Club website to see even more examples of this dynamic tattoo style, and to listen to some of Volko and Simone’s beautiful music recordings.

About the Guru:
Karen L. Hudson has been writing for the body art community since 1999. She is the author of Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos--and the Women Who Wear Them and Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification. After leaving her position as About.com's body art expert in 2011, she founded Tat2Guru to continue her efforts as a safety and acceptance advocate for the body art community. Read Her Full Bio

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