Commercial real estate industry insights.

Austin Artist Overcomes Disability to Achieve Widespread Recognition for Art Works

by Chris Roach, MAI, CCIM | Mar 16, 2023

In a conference room at real estate services firm BBG’s downtown Dallas office building, an oil painting of a fruit tree hangs on one of the walls. The painting exudes a visually stunning presence that immediately captures the attention of those inside the room and passersby.

The painting, created by Austin artist Jared Dunten, depicts a multicolored blossoming tree called “The Tree of 40 Fruit”, conceived by Syracuse University professor Sam Van Aken who grafted buds from various trees to create trees that produce 40 different varieties of stone fruits, or fruits with pits. Aken’s trees have been planted at different locations across the country.

But the painting is more than just Dunten’s interpretation of Aken’s work: It symbolizes how all living things are capable of remaining resilient while enduring hardship, a trait that allows Dunten to attain notable achievements despite living with a severe physical disability.

Diving Injury Paralyzes Dunten

Since his mid-20s, Dunten has been a quadriplegic from injuries suffered in a diving accident in the Rio Grande River after a camping trip at Big Bend National Park more than two decades ago.

On a spring day in 2000, Dunten, tired and hot from backpacking after his camping trip, dove into the shallow river but didn’t surface. A hiking companion jumped into the river and pulled an unconscious Dunten from the water.

Transported to a Lubbock hospital, doctors found that Dunten had broken his neck and severely injured his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Accomplished Artist Doesn’t Let Disability Interfere With Life Goals

Dunten, however, refused to let his debilitating injury prevent him from trying to lead a normal life. In fact, he has led an extraordinary one in the aftermath of the accident.

After the accident, Dunten got married to his wife, Kimberly, and the couple are raising their 11-year-old twin sons Asher and Levi. Dunten also works a full-time job from home as a copywriter for an Austin ad agency.

Dunten also would not let his paralysis extinguish his creative spark. Two years after the accident, he began using his mouth to paint from the confines of an electric wheelchair.

Since then, Dunten swiftly excelled as an artist despite his disability, achieving widespread recognition for his work. Some of those accomplishments include:

  • In 2005, he was awarded a student scholarship by the Lichenstein-based Mouth and Foot Painters Association.
  • Studied with renowned Austin painter Philip Wade and acclaimed abstraction and realist artist Edward Povey.
  • Exhibited his works at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, Houston’s The One Allen Center and TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital, and TCU University’s College of Education in Fort Worth, as well as art shows at his home and gallery west of Austin
  • Sold paintings to art patrons across the country to add to their collections.
  • National publications have featured his paintings.

A tireless advocate of research for paralysis from spinal cord injury, Dunten vows that one day he will walk again, with the help of his artistic gift. On his website, Dunten states that “I still believe I’ll paint my way out of this wheelchair.”

‘Make Something Beautiful in a Difficult Existence’

An Austin American-Statesman article on Dunten’s journey perhaps sums up best how he won’t let his disability distract him from his craft. “At the canvas, it is his life’s mission to make something beautiful in a difficult existence.”

BBG CEO Chris Roach, who acquired Dunten’s painting for display at the firm’s headquarters, would agree with that assessment.

“The painting embodies the tenacity of the human spirit in overcoming life’s biggest challenges, and Jared’s ability to accomplish numerous artistic and personal achievements since his injury years ago clearly shows how one can rise above those challenges, “ says Mr. Roach who heard about Dunten’s story from the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation “We are very fortunate to share one of Jared’s amazing works of art in our office, as it reminds us every day that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. We also highly encourage anyone capable of making donations to the foundation to support its mission of curing spinal cord paralysis.”

Dunten’s painting of the “The Tree of 40 Fruit” also reminds Mr. Roach of BBG’s structure and mission: One central organization with multiple service lines with a diverse collection of entrepreneurs working together on a common goal of providing strategic vision and diligent focus in meeting BBG clients’ needs.