Mixing clays of the most diverse colours can produce extraordinary decorative effects. Depending on how the clays are layered and worked, the decorations can be unpredictable and surprising, or carefully arranged and calculated.
The artists who work with clay use the words “neriage”, “nerikomi” and “agateware” interchangeably to define this way of working clay and the different origin of these words reveals some of its characteristics.
Neriage comes from the Japanese and combines the root word neri that means “to mix” and the root word age that means “to pull up”. The latter refers to the action whereby the clay is pulled up when worked on the wheel.
As a result, neriage is achieved by mixing layers of different coloured clays and working them on the pottery wheel so as to create a spiralling and swirling blend.
Objects made this way can be completed with the swirl pattern or their shape can be altered by cutting or faceting the surface. Cutting across the layered and blended clays will expose an infinite variety of patterns.
The type of pattern resulting from the process can be partly controlled both by the thickness of the layers and by how the layers are placed on the wheel. If they are horizontal to the wheel, they will produce bolder and thicker patterns.
The term nerikomi is also of Japanese origin. In this case, the root word neri is combined with the root word komi, meaning “to press into” and refers to the action of pressing clay slabs into a mould. Nerikomi thus means to process the layers of clay by hand, providing a more accurate control over the final result.
The most popular technique for working the clay by hand consists in laying out several slabs of clay in different colours that are joined by stacking or rolling.
The shapes achieved are then cut into thin blocks that reveal the effect caused by the stacking. The blocks can be joined together or pressed into a base slab so as to create a rhythmic and regular decoration.
The term “agateware” appeared in England in the 17th Century and refers to the random and layered aspect of the agate stone.
John Dwight, founder of Fulham Pottery is broadly considered to be the founding father of the English stoneware tradition. From 1670 he conducted many experiments to perfect the technique and wrote of the basic notions for its understanding and dissemination. In particular, Dwight revealed that the basic elements that ensure the positive outcome of this technique are the colour of the clay and compatibility, providing exact indications on the firing temperature, elasticity, plasticity, density and strength of the different clays.
In the past Centuries, the clays used to work ceramic were produced using artisan methods, and the use of a complex operation was needed to check the compatibility of the different clays. Today, the clays are produced in industrial processes strictly compliant to the physical specifications declared by the manufacturer. It has therefore become more simple for ceramic artists to assess compatibility. The technique of neriage, nerikomi or agateware is used more than ever before by contemporary ceramic artists and is never ceases to surprise for the incredible variety of results that can be achieved.