By Mike Bush

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - With precise, confident brush strokes, the colors come together as pieces in a puzzle. The artist expressing not what he sees but what he feels.

"There's no boundaries," says painter Jesse Cuellar. "Nobody can tell you if you're right or wrong."

For Cuellar, this is nothing new. He's been painting all his life. These days though, his studio is The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis, and his compositions are done not with his hands but with his mouth.

"I'm speechless about that because I don't know how he does it," says Jesse's sister, Kelly Cuellar.

Everything changed for this 30-year-old in 2010, when he lost his footing and fell off a roof.

"It was quiet for three seconds, I closed my eyes," recalls Cuellar. "I opened them back up, I was on the ground, I was still alive."

Alive, but not well. Doctor's weren't sure he'd ever be able to speak again or breathe on his own after suffering a severe spinal cord injury. Though he lost the use of his arms and legs, he never lost his sense of humor.

"I totally showed them up and did everything they told me I couldn't do," laughs Cuellar. "Except for walking. Yet."

It was during those first few weeks of rehab that his therapist suggested that there was a way to get back to doing what he loved.

"I was impressed right away with how positive he was that came off right off the bat, "says occupational therapist Becky Mollett.

And a short time later, Jesse was once again dipping the brush into the palette of his imagination.

"You have the same motions in your neck as you do in your hands so you manipulate your head and your neck, the same way you'd use your hand. The thought process is the same," he says.

Some art can be described as contemporary, some classic but Jesse Cuellar's style is something else.
"Controlled chaos," laughs Jesse."

Even his first few paintings by mouth showed his talent but now he's selling some of his canvases for hundreds of dollars.

"I believe one day he'll buy me a car because he'll be able to do that," giggles Kelly.

While he admits to having bad days, the power behind his paintings may just be the power of positive thinking.

"You can take it two different ways," explains Jesse. "You can be negative about it and sit there and let it eat you alive or you can take the best of it and run with it."

Calling this is his second life, Jesse Cuellar believes he's a better painter now than he was when he was able-bodied.

"My second life is killing my first life. Way better. Hands down. No pun intended," he laughs.

A small canvas can often show a big picture. For the other patients in rehab, each flowing stroke sends a message.

"I don't go an hour in the gym without someone making a comment to me," says Mollett.

Showing that art doesn't come from the hand, it comes from the heart.

For more info on Jesse's art, check out his Facebook page.

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