Nearing the end of his life, Henri Matisse found painting with a brush too taxing for his old age. Searching for a new medium, he decided to paint with scissors instead. Cutting paper to create collages, he introduced his cut-outs, “a radically new operation” noted for their “wide-ranging color and complexity.”
Polyc SJ, on the other hand, began cutting paper as a child. Born to a painter father who did not allow him to play with brushes as much as he wanted, Polyc SJ instead turned to cut-outs and has been making collages for as long as he can remember. “It began with making collages of cartoon characters I liked,” he says. “I spent most of my time watching cartoons as a kid and it was fun recreating my favorite characters.”
With his natural inclination for art, Polyc SJ knew he wanted to be an artist growing up, just like his father. “I eventually came to learn about Matisse,” he chuckles. “Learning about these great artists and their works, I knew I had to be an artist too.”
Initially, he had hoped to study pop art in college. “My love of cartoons had developed into a love for pop art but I could not find any program that focused on it. So, I decided to pursue art not in school but through working as a full-time artist,” Polyc SJ says. “And when I was not sure what I should do in terms of my career, I read about Cho Seung Hyun, a tattoo artist based in Canada, who tattooed various celebrities including Justin Bieber. I thought it would be really cool to transform my art into tattoos.”
Years after he first picked up a tattoo machine, Polyc SJ is now an internationally renowned tattoo artist who works predominantly in Europe, constantly flying to different cities where many are eager to meet him. “I actually have to fly out for work right after this interview,” he says. “I think people are drawn to how I take familiar elements from pop culture and convert them unexpectedly. My tattoos are like puzzle pieces that come together to create something new. I call it ‘polygonal-pop,’” he explains.
His unique characteristics, however, are not limited polygonal collage-esque geometry. As in Matisse’s cut-outs, contrast is another important element in Polyc SJ’s tattoos. “Some tattoo artists avoid using black and color inks together because they clash but I use them together because of that reason,” he says. “When people see my tattoo, I want—and I think every tattoo artist wants—people to be able to recognize that it’s mine. I think that’s why I love to heavily contrast colors in my tattoos. I want them to pop.”
Out of his many beloved tattoos, he picks his interpretation of The Great Wave of Kanagawa as one of the most personally meaningful pieces. “It received a lot of attention and really brought me the success that I enjoy now. Now, many people tell me that they want something similar to what they see on Instagram. And while I’m very appreciative of their support, I also worry about becoming an artist who simply recreates and almost plagiarizes himself,” he notes.
In fact, many of Polyc SJ’s works thus far are interpretations of masterpieces or cartoon characters. But he confesses that he has recently begun to worry about his growth as an artist. “What I draw now is more or less the same as what I used to draw as a kid,” he says. “I focused a lot on taking elements from pop culture and reinterpreting them but I am starting to think that I should do more.”
When asked whether he is considering distancing himself from his polygonal-pop style, however, he quickly shakes his head. “I don’t feel restricted by what I do. My polygonal-pop art is very versatile, and I feel like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing,” he answers. “It’s more that if I have been focusing on reinterpreting others’ work so far, I’m now trying to create more original works,” he adds.
As someone who wishes to always challenge himself, Polyc SJ hopes to use his current success as another stepping stone. “I enjoy the privilege of getting to travel around the world thanks to my job. So, when I travel, I am now trying to spend more of my time on seeing what the great artists have been inspired by. I get to see what Matisse saw, for example, before he interpreted them in his works. I want to see what the artists found so beautiful that they were moved to create and to then create my own work. That’s the only way I’ll grow,” he says, excitedly.