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  • Hillary Keys

Painstaking Patterns


Japan is famed for its numerous styles of pottery and ceramics, but one technique, in particular, has become internationally renowned. Nerikomi, also known as neriage, is a technique wherein colored clays are stacked then sliced through or carved into to reveal a pattern. These patterned slices of clay can then be applied as a decoration or used whole to create vases, tableware and other ceramics. As the layers are stacked or cut they can appear as fine, wavy lines or broader swathes of color in the finished product. The different oxidation rates and contents of the clay determine the colors of the designs when they dry. Patterns produced in this technique vary from Monet-reminiscent blurs to rigid geometric designs.

Kamio Ogata, a 70-year-old ceramicist based in Hokkaido Prefecture, is considered the foremost master in the field. He first began working in nerikomi in his 30s after being inspired by a red-and-black clay pot made by the famed potter Ito Sekisui V. He sought to recreate the effect of that design in the nerikomi technique.

As a ceramicist in the modern age, Ogata seeks to reflect the sentiments of the current generation in his works. “I’m inspired to make new works by the combinations of the colored clay’s gradations in color and shape, and their relevance to reality. Via the subtle changes in the clay, I’m able to express intangible emotions such as feelings of insecurity, instability, and struggle.”

However, he emphasizes that nerikomi is not a precise science⁠—the designs can easily be broken, cracked, or even mashed, which makes this technique difficult but ultimately incredibly rewarding for the artist.

When viewing or purchasing nerikomi, one of the most important points to consider is the craftsmanship of the piece. “The Japanese are known for making detailed works, but the most important thing I think is the originality. I hope you’ll find pieces in shapes and patterns that you have never seen before.”


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