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With electricity and sparks, Mears makes metal into unique art

The art of Paul Mears is kind of like his 1957 Chevy.

With sparkling chrome and a zebra-striped paint job, the classic car looks like it would be just as at home on a magazine cover as it is parked in front of his hilltop home.

Mears remembers one day when he pulled the Chevy to a stop next to a yellow school bus at an intersection. In awe, the children inside the bus shouted and rushed to the windows, cupping their hands around their eyes to get a better look.

“I’m thinking that if I’m at the gates of heaven, St. Peter’s going to say, ‘You’re the guy with the striped car. Go right in,’ ” Mears said, laughing. “It brings joy to people and I love that.”

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People are stopping to stare at Mears’ art, too. In the past few years, Mears has been designing one-of-a-kind iron gates for upper-class homes and businesses in San Diego. He considers himself a sculptor, but his craft, known as decorative ironwork, substitutes raw metal and a setaline welding torch for chisel and stone.

In his garage-turned-workshop, Mears grabs a plain piece of copper pipe the color of a penny and explains the use of patinas, chemical solutions that change the colors of metals.

“Look here, it’s just a plain pipe,” he says excitedly. “But with the patinas, I can change the copper to a blue or a green, and I’ve welded these pieces on here, and now look. It’s a piece of bamboo.”

It does look like bamboo. With flat sheets of copper, Mears can make flowing palm fronds. He did so for his latest gate, which he describes as a kind of Hawaiian deco.

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“I’ve always been a creative person,” Mears said. “I used to paint a lot. One day in college, I walked by a classroom and saw all these sparks flying, and it was a welding class. I was hooked. It’s so exciting, because you can make things that are really substantial, that really last.”

Mears said the sheer energy involved in shaping metal is part of the allure.

“It can be dangerous,” he said. “You’re working and there’s all this electricity and sparks, and it’s beautiful. You can put all these different metals together and they change with the heat.”

Mears started designing gates after a trip to Hawaii. While walking in Waikiki, he passed a row of homes, each with its own singular front gate.

“They were absolutely phenomenal, and I had never seen anything like it,” he said. “I started doing research on this and I saw that, my God, no one is doing this in California. Everyone is satisfied with this Erector-set stuff. If you spend umpty-ump-million on a home, I mean, the gate’s the first thing people are going to see. This is like jewelry for a house. You can go traditional or modern, sunsets or palm trees. You can do anything.”

Mears takes a breath and flashes a toothy smile. Twenty-five years ago he worked as a model in Milan, Italy and although he now has some wisps of gray in his hair, he still has that winning smile.

Mears still considers himself a kid at heart. Along with the 1957 Chevy, he has a Vespa scooter. He welded some steel bars onto the bike so he could carry his surfboard down to WindanSea, his surf spot since high school.

Chip Crandall met Mears when they were kids surfing at WindanSea. Now with Torrey Pines Property Management, he recently commissioned Mears for a new gate.

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“These gates increase the appeal and recognition of a home,” Crandall says. “This is the first impression you get of a home, and first impression is crucial when setting one’s emotion and state of mind on a piece of real estate.”

Mears doesn’t mind adding value to a home or business but his main goal, like with his 1957 Chevy, is to give people something fun to look at.

“La Jolla is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Mears. “It would be awesome just to create something beautiful that is going to last and sparkle the imagination of a little kid.”

To contact Paul Mears, call (858) 699-0098 or e-mail ironartlj@hotmail.com.