By Brian Park
If their exploits in 2012 provide any indication of what they’re capable of, then Bruce Brown and Julian Grembla have plenty more headlines to make in 2013.
The two friends, both residents of Atria Senior Living in San Juan Capistrano, have overcome their fair share of obstacles to accomplish some amazing things.
Brown worked for 25 years as an electrical engineer and as a specialist in airport construction. His real passion, however, has always been art. Brown often took whatever spare time he had and devoted it to painting, and he was even one of the original exhibitors at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach.
But at the age of 52, Brown suffered a debilitating stroke that robbed him of his speech and mobility and paralyzed the right side of his body. No longer able to paint with his right hand, Brown used art as his therapy and began painting with his left.
Brown communicates through hand signals, notes and at times, an iPad. Although he indicated that his artwork has improved, little by little, painting with his left hand wasn’t so much a challenge as it was learning a different style.
Brown paints religiously, five hours a day; five days for a single painting. His artwork has become so voluminous, his apartment, where hundreds of his paintings lie stacked against his walls, seems more an oil-and-acrylic shrine than an abode.
Since his stroke, Brown has sold more than 100 paintings, starting at around $250 each. In September, Brown’s artwork was featured in an art show at Atria, during which a few more paintings found their way into people’s homes, offices and art collections.
Meanwhile, Grembla has become the reluctant daredevil of Atria, if only for a fall he took from 12,500 feet.
In June, just four months after turning 96, Grembla became the talk of Atria when he decided to go skydiving with his family in Lake Elsinore. When asked about the drop and the subsequent attention, Grembla said, “It was a very casual experience. I was surprised so many of my friends made a fuss over it.”
Grembla is legally blind, as he suffers from macular degeneration, an age-related condition that results in a loss of vision in the center of the eye.
“The scenery I saw was limited, but it was a nice sensation,” Grembla said. “The first 100 feet or so is very fast until you pull the chord and then it slows down to a nice ride.”
Brown and Grembla often share a table during meals. When communication becomes too difficult and hand signals don’t suffice, Brown often pulls out his iPad. It’s also through technology that the two have come to share their mutual love of opera.
“He has an iPod that he’s demonstrated for me several times, so we get into some opera,” Grembla said. “I’ve been an opera fan since I was 10 or 12 years old.”
Each month, Brown and Grembla are joined by other opera enthusiasts from Atria and take a trip to the IMAX theater at the Irvine Spectrum, where they watch live simulcasts of shows at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Brown indicates that art and opera still serve as a therapy of sorts, but life and his faith are his inspiration. The staff at Atria has tentatively planned to do another art show to showcase his work, sometime in the coming months.
As for Grembla, when asked what great feat is next on his list, he said:
“It could be anything. Incidentally, I heard we’re going to see Rigoletto. It’s my favorite opera.”