Today Shirley and I went to U Paint I Fire ceramics and pottery to interview owner and sole employee John Behragam on W. 4th Avenue. The sign out front is a beaming yellow and black sign that has seen its days. However, inside the store the shelves are ripe with colourful works both of John and his customers. We sat down at the green marbled tables to discuss the history of John, the lone ranger ceramist and potter, and community to him!
John learned pottery from his father whose father’s father was also a potter who learned from his father…anyways you get the point. John is a 4th generation potter who takes great pride in his Persian/Iranian heritage. After picking up ceramics during 14 years of teaching in the adult education system, John opened up his very own store, by himself, 16 years ago.
In case you are wondering, essentially ceramics is hand building and casting while pottery is using the wheel to make vessels or containers! There are several different types of clay and methods for both categories. If you want to know more contact John himself!
Originally the store was named “Bonita Arts,” but John found customers would frequently call to ask, “Can I paint?” To which John would respond, “Yes you paint, I fire.” At that point a new name had come to fruition, “U Paint I Fire.” As simple and straight forward as it is customers still sometimes call into ask, “Do I get to paint?”
As a member of the local Kitsilano community for over 16 years, John has had the pleasure, as he describes, of watching children grow up who frequent the store. John embraces the community through his work teaching classes and hosting parties. Getting to know new faces and watching old ones bloom is what John says makes his time so enjoyable.
By sharing his knowledge of a slowly fading art form, John contributes something so rich to this community. John holds such a passion for his work. 22 ceramic studios have closed down across BC, as U Paint I Fire is one of the last standing. This is due largely in part to John’s dedication to his work; biking to and from work every day after sculpting, pouring, and throwing for 8-16 hours a day. If it wasn’t for his hard work many youth and adults would not be exposed to ceramics and pottery.
John has seen small businesses fall and large businesses emerge in the Kitsilano community, which slightly angers John. However, he chips in where he can on a tight budget to support the locally owned businesses, ordering food for parties and buying lunch every so often. John can also be seen having coffee or tea with his friendly neighbours or playing tennis around the community!
John’s passion for the Kitsilano community was so apparent when speaking with him. We asked John what he thought would help build the community and he was bursting with suggestions. John wishes that the community could be tied closer together, especially the area from Macdonald to Alma. John suggested having a street festival, a local website or newsletter, community meetings, and events to help keep everyone informed.
A peak around the items on offer and a tour from John of his cozy little shop, from the wheels to the kilns, wrapped up the interview. It was remarkable how many different pieces he was able to make on his own with such quality.
We’ll be back to hopefully film a P4A of John throwing on the wheel in a couple weeks!
There are all sorts of reasons to check out U Paint I Fire! Break a mug? No problem, go paint yourself a new one. Want a new piggy bank? They got those too. Want to unwind and relieve some stress? Spend some time on the wheel. Whether ceramics interests you or not, pay John a visit to see why U Paint I Fire is the last standing ceramics studio!
Come back for more interviews with our local businesses!
Photo Credit: Shirley Lei
John is a father of 2 young boys. Whether they will be such accomplished potters as John is still in the air.
John can make 300-500 pieces in a single day by himself.
The most popular items are the cupcakes, apple dishes, and figurines!