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Trash Polka: Trashing the Rules of Conventional Tattoo Art

By Summer Wilson

Combining modern art collage, photorealistic imagery, graphic design, and bold letters and shapes, Volker Merschky and Simone Pfaff break the rules of conventional tattooing with a style they call “Trash Polka.” 

To the duo, “trash” means everything beyond the realistic: destruction, abstraction, ink splatters, organic shapes. Merschky and Pfaff liken the interplay of “trash” and realistic elements to a song–in other words, polka. In a quaint Bavarian town in Germany among baroque churches, a scenic fortress, and charming cobblestone streets, you’ll find their Buena Vista Tattoo Club

Click to watch our video profile of Simone Pfaff and Volker Merschky.

Merschky and Pfaff have made art together for more than 26 years. In addition to tattooing, they paint, take photographs, and play what they’ve dubbed “morbid folk music” in their band, Dobbs Dead. They use their own photography and painting in their custom tattoo designs; in turn, tattoo clients appear in the photography projects.  

When designing a tattoo, the couple creates a story around each customer’s stated theme. They begin with a photograph of the client’s nude body, and then in Adobe Photoshop CC, they’ll create a design using the image of the body as a guide. Merschky says good design is like a good song—when it succeeds, it’s because everything works together. 

Clients from around the world travel to Germany to get tattooed by Merschky and Pfaff, or by one of the visiting artists who work out of the Buena Vista Tattoo Shop. Because their Trash Polka style is often on a large scale, sometimes covering the entire body, the duo and their clients form deep bonds. Merschky says, “We spend so much time with our customers. It’s an honor for us, that they trust us and give us a chance to create something on their body.”