Clifton Karhu was born in 1927 in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. While living in Japan since 1955, he continued to draw the country's traditional landscapes and architectures. Elegant, gallant and refined at the same time, Karhu's works created fans both inside and outside Japan. In his later years, Karhu moved to Kazuemachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa. Here, he established his home-cum-atelier in a former tea house, and for the following 12 years, devoted himself actively to the production of works mainly capturing the quaint atmosphere of Kanazawa.
In addition, he held exhibitions not only at local department stores, but also in other major Japanese cities as well as many parts of the world. While in Kanazawa, he made various contributions for the betterment of the city, such as making woodblock print tanzaku, or paper strips, calling for the prevention of littering the streets with empty cans and painting ema, or pieces of wood to write prayers, for local Shinto shrines. Karhu passed away in 2007 at the age of 80.
Across Japan, Asia, Europe, USA
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., ITOCHU Corporation, IBM Japan, Ltd., Cathay Pacific Airways Limited, The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, AIU Japan, ACC Japan, Businessweek Magazine, Pacific Magazines, NBC Magazine, Japan Broadcasting Corporation, Boston-Kyoto Sister Cities Committee Japanese Culture Association, Japanese Culture, Tokyo American Club, and many more.
Magazine and Newspaper Coverage
Newsweek, Playboy, Reader’s Digest, Graphic Annuals, Japan Pictorial, Orientations, Asia Magazine, Pacific, Mainichi Graphic, Who’s Who in Art, Who’s Who in Japanese Contemporary Prints, Japanese Print, Sophia, ACCJ Journal, Kateigaho, Los Angeles Times, Chinese Art, Japan Quality, and many more.
Matsuzaka Foundation, Cincinnati Art Museum, Harvard University, Saltzburg Art Museum, Minnesota Museum of American Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Art, Lahti City Museum, University of Hawaii, Tweed Museum of Art (Duluth, Minnesota), National Gallery of Australia, etc.
B. Freeman (AIU), Former U.S. Vice President H. Humphrey, Steve Parker, Shirley MacLaine, Former American Ambassador Mike Mansfield, Caspar Weinberger, Arthur Sulzberger, David Rockefeller, Major General H. Stackpole and his wife, Former American Ambassador James Hudson, Former Finnish Ambassador Pekka Lintu, Former Finnish Ambassador Osmo Lares, Former Finnish President Mauno Koivisto, Tamotsu Yamada, James Michener, John Shepard, Hugo Downes, etc.
Why He Chose to Live in Kanazawa for His Later Years
“Japanese traditional house and townhouse culture” is a frequently featured theme in Karhu’s works and he felt that Kazuemachi and Higashiyama areas still retained authentic, uncommercialized elements that Kyoto had long lost. He also loved the clear way the four seasons take turns one after another.
Ever since his first visit to Kanazawa to fulfill a request to paint Kutani porcelain, he grew attracted to the city and, over the course of his many visits, he ended up buying a house there. He then refurbished both the interior and exterior of the house into the traditional style in keeping with Kanazawa’s tea house (town house) culture. The kitchen was an exception, though, as it showed Karhu's pursuit of modern American comfort, as was expected from his passion for cooking.
Several humorous self-portraits in the parody of a Kabuki actor exist from different stages and ages of his life. Karhu’s eyes, though depicted blue in the self-portraits, were actually blue-green.
Things Karhu Loved
- ・His beloved cat, Maito (meaning "milk" in Finnish): Maito died on April 19th, 2010, of thyroid cancer (at the age of 11)
- ・Kona coffee
- ・Cuban cigars: Davidoff Montecristo No.2
- ・T-bone steaks
- ・Cooking (mainly traditional American and Finnish cuisines): Partly to seek changes in his everyday life, he made a point of always cooking his own meals whenever he ate at home.
- ・Fishing (mainly freshwater fishing): He was known to be excellent at decoy fishing of ayu (sweetfish) in particular. In fact, after his return to Japan following his retirement from the military and during his residency in Gifu prefecture, he became so good at it that he even made his living by selling the ayu he caught (before he achieved his career as an outstanding printmaker). Also, as it accounts for one of the reasons for leaving his dear old Kyoto and establishing his residence in Kanazawa’s tea house district alongside Asano River in his later years, his deep love of the scenery of Asano Riverside obviously has a lot to do with his nostalgia for his younger days (when he made his living by fishing). He actually fished often in the river's downstream (mainly minnow fishing for the lack of ayu in Asano River).
In January, fifteen months before he died, he was diagnosed with liver cell tumor and hospitalized. He was declared to have only four months to live. However, thanks to the words of encouragement by those who loved him, not to mention his own efforts, he continued to live, though being in and out of hospital several times. Even during this period, whenever his condition somewhat improved, he would return to Kanazawa to live in his home. To his last moment, he told repeatedly to his friends and acquaintances around him that he would do anything to return to Kanazawa.
Moreover, for about three weeks from February 7th—a little prior to his death— he went on his final vacation to Hawaii, accompanied by his long-beloved partner. And there he spent his time enjoying conversations with his Oahu friends and smoking his favorite cigars. When he returned to Kansai International Airport, however, he could hardly take any food, though he would never let any feeble complaint escape from his lips in others' presence and instead repeatedly implored—his face emaciated but eyes glaring—that he be “back to Kanazawa.” In the end, he did return to Kanazawa, after staying and resting at Japan Airline Hotel inside Kansai Airport.
|1927 (Age 0)||Born in Duluth, Minnesota, his grandparents were Finnish by birth and later immigrated to America. His parents were born in the States.|
|1947-49 (Age 20-22)||Originally coming to Japan as an American military personnel, he was stationed in Sasebo, Nagasaki, with assignment as military painter.|
|1950-52 (Age 23-25)||Studied at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in the United States.|
|1955 (Age 28)||Returned to Japan and lived there ever since, first in Shiga, then moving to Kyoto.|
|1958 (Age 31)||Moved to Nagarasugino-cho, Gifu and embarked on his career in Japanese art.|
|1961 (Age 34)||Held his first private exhibition, achieving a great success.|
|1962 (Age 35)||Resettled in Kyoto and belonged to the Taiheiyo Art Association until 1965.|
|1963 (Age 36）||Held numerous private exhibitions in 16 major cities in Japan as well as Hong Kong, Australia, Europe, and America.|
|1975 (Age 48）||Published Karhu Hanga.|
|1977 (Age 50）||Appointed as Japan Print Association’s Kyoto branch chief.|
|1979-80（Age 52-53）||Published a collection of his prints 京都再見(Kyoto Reseen)|
|1981（Age 54）||Publish a collection of his prints 京都発見(Kyoto Discovered)|
|1986 (Age 59）||Held a retrospective exhibition at the Tweed Museum of Art in Minnesota, U.S.A.|
|1988 (Age 61）||Held a retrospective exhibition at Kyoto Takashimaya.|
|1990（Age 63）||Three-month retrospective exhibition at Retretti Art Centre in Finland. ”Clifton Karhu Exhibition: 30 years’ Footsteps” held at Hankyu Department Store in Yurakucho, Tokyo, co-sponsored by U.S. Embassy, Asahi Shinbun Company, and Tolman Collection.|
|1991（Age 64）||Published a book, From the Brush|
|1995（Age 68）||Moved to Kazuemachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa, where he resumed his creative production for the next 12 years.|
|1996（Age 69）||Held an exhibition at Lahti City Museum, Finland.|
|1997（Age 70）||Held an exhibition in Moritzburg, Germany.|
|2003（Age 76）||Held exhibitions in Finland as well as U.S.A.|
|2004（Age 77）||Published a collection of his prints, 77 Woodblock Prints by Clifton Karhu.|
|2007（Age 80）||Died at a hospital in Kyoto.|