Sunday, 5 December 2010

Clifton Karhu

Clifton Karhu
Japanese printmaker.

Relax! I am not going to write anything academic or professionally on the life and art of Clifton Karhu. The man is world famous and I have no pretentions other than to show you some nice pictures and some funny things I’ve discovered.
Besides, I had to wait finding some flower prints he made to start this posting in a way appropriate to my Blog. These 3 are the only flower prints I know of. 1: Peony, 2: Cammelia and 3: Plum.

For those readers unacquainted with Karhu and his work: visit the many sites that show his wonderful prints and share the admiration and the esteem he was awarded with. The (condensed and just elucidating) text is borrowed from Artelino: A visit is a must.

Clifton Karhu, from Finnish-American descent was stationed from 1946 to 1948 on an American naval base in Japan. Back in the USA, Clifton studied at the Minneapolis Art School from 1950 to 1952.
He returned in 1952 to Japan as a missionary of the Lutheran Church. Traveling through Japan selling Bibles door-to-door. In 1958 he resigned as a missionary and returned to arts. In 1963 Karhu moved to Kyoto it was here he got interested in woodblock printing.

OK: one print to show his style for those unacquainted and because it's lovely and it's snowing here in december too.
Besides all the famous and beautiful prints he made early in his printing career also a series of “Shunga Light” prints. The art form of Shunga, with its very direct and explicit showing of mega structural organs in passionate action not to be shown here. Although not exactly my taste I have seen, like many of you, quite a few of course. Besides not good for one’s self esteem watching men hung and women build like baboons they are of a pornographically nature and hardly made for display on the (not even sleeping room) wall. But Karhu’s are!
The first (12) black and white prints show pencil-drawn Zodiac symbols on 9 of them. Three are without symbols. I think they were designs.

Later he made also colored prints. I know of 6. Some (almost) identical to the black and whites and 1 newly designed .

In 1967-68 he made 12 of these prints this time with floral designs on the kimonos. In a signed edition of 50. They show up occasionally. They never come cheap. I guess they are very personal and loved possessions and decorate sleeping rooms all over the world. Harmless even for children’s eyes.

But did you know there exists an unsigned edition too on heavy paper. Because of the flowers depicted and because they are so subtle I plan showing the complete set of 12. But only If I receive two (or more) positive comments from you. Karhu never returned to the subject so they can be qualified a youthful sin early in his printing career. But what a nice sin it was.

Here is the one for December: Camelia (the flower)

It's up to you now !


  1. I would love to see more! I've never heard of him, but I'm fairly ignorant. Really lovely work.

  2. Marissa your request counts for two. They will be coming up tomorrow.
    I am glad you like him, visit the link in the post. Karhu considered a master of woodblock printing. With a very distinct and personal style.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Marissa is right. I'd never heard of him either. I like the flowers. Vibrant colours.

  4. I presumed he was more known to printlovers outside Japan. But I think I will have to do a post on him with my favourites because I too think he is great. Besides his lifestory is worth telling too. Even posthumous