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Archive: Clifton Karhu (クリフトンカーフ)

"Evening Lights"
"C. Karhu" in pencil lower right margin
No Artist Seal
Self-carved, self-printed, self-published
(H x W)
Oversize modern print
Edition no.: 81/100
23.8 x 64.2 cm
Excellent color, unbacked thick paper; a few short, light scuff marks near right edge
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry (Ref #KRH01)


Clifton Karhu (1927-2007, pronounced "Kurifuton Kafu" in Japanese, クリフトンカーフ) was born in Duluth, Minnesota into a family of Finnish descent. From 1947 to 1949, during the post-war Allied occupation, he was stationed for a year in the port city of Sasebo, Nagasaki, with an assignment as a military artist. After returning to the United States and then moving back to Japan, Karhu had his first exhibition of paintings and watercolors in 1961 at the Shingifu Gallery in Gifu City. Later that year some pictures from that show were awarded first prize by the Central Pacific Art Society. In 1963, Karhu had successful exhibitions in sixteen major cities in Japan as well as others in Hong Kong, Australia, Europe, and the U.S. Once he was settled in Kyoto, he struggled for a while with learning how to carve woodblocks, but by 1964 he mastered the basics and had his first print and watercolor show at the Yamada Gallery. He went on to produce a substantial body of work. In his oeuvre, Karhu did not usually concentrate on the famous places. It has often been said of that much of his subject matter focused on ordinary everyday things that people so often take for granted and hardly notice. "I don't need the exotic," he once said, "I like to do the things around me that I see every day. I wasn't born in Japan, so maybe I can look at something and appreciate it more because it hasn't lost its importance for me."

For more about this artist, see our Clifton Karhu Bio Page.


An enduring theme in Karhu's work is the repeat-pattern created by latticed houses seen in the streets of Kyoto. Few human figures appear in these prints, but in many of his designs, the presence of people can be felt. So it is with this wide view in which the range of illuminated colors emerging from the rooms and entryways suggest that human activities are in progress, whether or not we can see the participants.

The unusual format portrays an expanse of varied details that draws the viewer's gaze into a back-and-forth optic journey over the wide, masterfully printed design. This is an excellent example of Karhu's compelling visualizations of Kyoto.


  1. John Fiorillo's bio page on Clifton Karhu:
  2. Karhu, Clifton: Kyoto Rediscovered. New York/Tokyo/Kyoto: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1980.