Polaren Per’s work exhibits a technical proficiency and versatility in traditional tattooing, portraiture, and many other visual idioms. He is drawn to classical styles, which he constantly alters in order to create the best possible prospects for a tattoo’s longevity. “I’ve seen a lot of my work aged, so I know what has worked and what hasn’t. I’m always making small changes to improve.” While more than willing to work in other styles, Per “uses good contrast and defined lines whenever [he] can.” Aware of those inclinations, he continues, “I guess you could say I’m an old school artist.”
Born in Sweden, Per grew up in the outskirts of a town called Jönköping, where his father farmed apples and his mother worked as a nurse. He has drawn since an early age and chose the aesthetic program of study in his high school. Eventually, these drawings would function as Per’s introduction to the practice of tattooing: “I’ve always drawn, but when I became a bit older I began to draw tattoos for my friends, who were all a little older than me.” Once he turned 18, Per began designing tattoos for himself as well. From there, “my friends, who were punks and skinheads, pretty much talked me into doing tattoos myself, rather than only drawing them. So, I did.” Per continues, “I had a little money saved and bought some nice equipment right away. I did it as well as I could, but my friends didn’t really care whether or not the tattoos turned out well. The first friend I tattooed had about four or five tattoos—all done by cutting the skin with a razorblade and putting burnt paper in the wound. The tattoos looked like grey scars, so I really couldn’t have made anything worse than that.” After eight months steadily tattooing his friends, Per began working at a local shop.
Per moved to Gothenburg a year later, after becoming involved with a girl who also worked as a tattooist in that city. “I started to work with a lot of good tattooers and learned a lot from them and her.” His interest in tattooing and classical tattoos in particular was crystallized during that period by his memories of Clive Blake, the original bass player of the English hardcore band, Anti-Nowhere League. “Clive Blake looked hard as nails—I could never see exactly what tattoos he had, but I liked the idea of having so many small pieces everywhere.” Per then opened a studio in Borås before returning home to Jönköping, where he has spent the last four of his ten years of tattooing running his own shop, Den Gamla Skolan Tatuering Jönköping. He prefers to travel within Sweden, doing guest spots at other shops “just to break my everyday patterns.” He elaborates, “I also go to towns and shops where I have friends so that I can meet with them.” When choosing a shop, Per is sensitive to the pride the tattooists take in their work and their workplace—“everything should be on top, nothing half-done. It should look good and clean everywhere and should take pride in that.”
In line with that philosophy, Per counts among his inspirations “people who are genuinely interested in what they do, and who stand for what they do and are.” Such people are hard to find—“people who lie or are fake aren’t worth anything, and most people are just wastes of space”—but Per holds that you “attract what you send out,” a maxim that has allowed him to meet some good and interesting people. He is seeing a steady flow of clientele which consists of regulars mixed with new customers which “typically find their way through Instagram.” Ever humble, Per is working hard to continually improve at his craft, to “never remain satisfied” and continue learning. He thinks that this kind of investment will be central to the future of tattooing: “those who don’t really care about the craft and are not so good will gradually lose work. I think that you’ll have to do your best [tattooing] if you’re going to survive. Those who do care and who do put in the time are going to have more and more work to do.” He concludes, “I also think you’re going to have to be more of an all-around good artist, not one who only knows how to do one type of tattooing.” In that opinion, he leads by example.