Christian Ponisi is a collector of tattoos and streetwear, rocking the look with confidence. When he’s not writing the best and funniest Instagram captions I’ve ever read, seriously, check them out, he’s hanging out with rock stars and repping sick threads, all while changing misconceptions about people with physical disabilities. Christian hopes to inspire everyone, not only those in the disabled community, to live their lives to their best potential and to enjoy themselves without worrying what other people will think. Today he talks to us about living with a disability, his experience being part of the tattooed community, and of course, cool tattoos.
To start with, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Christian Ponisi. I am a 24 year old man from Staten Island, New York living with a neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. I am confined to an electric wheelchair and have used one ever since the age of 5. For my whole life, I made sure to never let my physical image define me as a person. I feel people have a certain mindset when gathering first impressions on a person with an obvious disability, and I just love flipping people’s initial impression of me; showing them aside from my physical appearance, I am an ordinary dude just like everyone else.
What made you interested in tattoos? What was your first one, and when did you get it?
Ever since I can remember I definitely always had an interest in tattoos. My group of friends that I grew up with started getting tattooed before me so I was last to join the party. They all have very realistic tattoos of archangels and other religious figures. I always remember saying “wow it’s amazing what these guys can do with a needle and flesh, it looks so real!” Where I live, realistic tattoo shops sort of dominate the scene so it’s really the only style I thought was out there. However, I also always had an interest in skateboarding and the appearance of skaters with real black bold tattoos on their forearms; so I guess in the back of my head I always knew there were other styles but I guess out of sight out of mind.
I remember being on my laptop back in 2015 listening to music and I remember seeing Ben Barlow of Neck Deep; specifically his arm and being like “Holy Shit, that’s it! I instantly researched tattoos and found out the style name which was American Traditional, and I was instantly hooked. Ben definitely has some of the sickest tattoos I’ve seen on anyone. Fortunately, [today] Ben is actually a close friend of mine, so as far as tattoos I kind of look at him like an older brother, always admiring his ink. I think about 2 years later after seeing his arm and hearing everyone tell me how bad tattoos hurt...I got a scorpion tattooed on my forearm knowing eventually it would be part of a sleeve...and it didn’t hurt in the slightest haha.
What style of tattoo are you drawn to the most and why?
All of my tattoos are American Traditional. I feel American Traditional tattoos are timeless pieces of art. They look the best, they age the best and I feel they’re the toughest looking. I love seeing skulls with cracks in them, and missing teeth in their mouth. It just looks so badass and wicked.
Have you faced any discrimination in the tattoo community such as accessibility in shops?
As far as accessibility, thankfully, going to different shops really haven’t been too bad. Usually, if I see a shop’s work that I like, I do a bit of research on Google Maps to see whether or not the location has steps or not and I work from there. My favorite tattoo shop that I go to, Smith Street Tattoo Parlour, actually has a step out front of it. I have a portable one step ramp that I take with me when I go and the staff is always super helpful in setting it up for me and making sure I’m always comfortable. Shout out Hunter from Smith Street Tattoo Parlour haha you’re the man.
Tattoos can often make people feel better about themselves, and more comfortable in their own skin. Have you had this experience with tattoos?
Yeah. Absolutely. Deformities from muscle weakness unfortunately come hand in hand with the disability that I have. Being that my wrists drop, it was something I looked at my whole life. I wouldn’t say I hated the way they looked, but yeah I definitely wasn’t satisfied either haha. I actually covered my wrist with a Sailor Jerry-esque rose in honor of my grandmother that had passed away & for my baby cousin. I love looking down at my wrist today. Not only do I get to see great art, but I get to smile at my grandmother’s remembrance.
What kind of advice would you give people both in the tattoo community, and in the disabled community in regards to people with disabilities getting tattooed?
I feel there is a certain level of intimidation both artists and people with disabilities may face in the whole experience of getting tattooed. I think artists should always keep in mind that people with disabilities are just like every other person getting tattooed, and if the disabled individual has certain limitations with their range of motion for example, then they should discuss it with their artist and come up with the proper approach to getting the best tattoo. As far as being a disabled person wanting to get a tattoo, talk to your artist about what you can tolerate. How long you may be able to hold the body part getting tattooed in a certain position. Don’t be afraid to speak up because naturally, every artist wants to make sure you are satisfied with the experience just as much as they would like to be.
Which artists have you been tattooed by?
I’ve been tattooed by multiple artists all over New York City. Most of my work came from artist John Lemon at Allied Tattoo in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I met John at another tattoo shop here on Staten Island before he started working at Allied. My favorite tattoo he did on me was this bunny skull on my wrist. From the cracks, the gold tooth, the burnt orange in the ears...he just killed that one. I’ve also been tattooed numerous times by Eli Quinters at Smith Street Tattoo Parlour in Carroll Gardens also in Brooklyn. Eli is such a great artist and an even better person. He did a Statue of Liberty tattoo on my inner bicep and the tattoo is just flawless. He also did some cool dice and a couple of other filler tattoos in my sleeve.
Do you have any other favorites or others you’d like to be tattooed by in the future?
My favourite artist, although I’ve only been tattooed by him once but I plan to get more from him in the future, is Bert Krak (also from Smith Street Tattoo Parlour). Bert did this Tony Polito cowboy skull on my outer bicep. Needless to say it’s my favorite tattoo. I actually have a picture of it hung up on my wall haha. With Bert, you know exactly what you’re going to get when getting tattooed by him, and that’s a timeless, bold and bright, New York style tattoo. Bert’s tattoos can be identified from across the street on someone. That’s how bold they are. Eventually, I plan on getting a tattoo from every artist at Smith Street Tattoo Parlour, but Steve Boltz is on the top of that list. Having gotten tattooed by the three founding fathers of (in my opinion) the greatest tattoo shop in all of New York (Smith Street Tattoo Parlour) just seems so epic to me. I’d also like to get tattooed by Chris Howell, Josh Todaro & Anthony Torok. If still alive, Old Calcutta Tony Polito would have definitely made the list too.
You recently finished one sleeve, any plans for the other arm, or tattoos elsewhere on you?
100%. I definitely plan on tattooing my other arm. I haven’t fully decided if I wanted to do a complete sleeve or just big pieces but I definitely have big plans for it haha (Sorry mom!) I also would love to hopefully do my torso too but I have no plans for it yet.