Karhu, Clifton

Clifton Karhu (1927-2007) was an American artist who became renowned for his contributions to the field of woodblock printmaking in Japan. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Karhu initially pursued a career in commercial art before moving to Japan in 1955. Influenced by the traditional Japanese art form of woodblock printing, he studied under the guidance of Un’ichi Hiratsuka, a prominent artist and printmaker at the time (Brown, 2008).

One of Karhu’s notable influences was the Japanese ukiyo-e tradition, particularly the works of Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. Their depiction of everyday life and landscapes deeply impacted Karhu’s artistic style. He drew inspiration from the simplicity and elegance of ukiyo-e prints, incorporating these elements into his own modern woodblock prints (Gill, 2018).

Karhu’s art was characterized by his dedication to the medium of woodblock printing and his mastery of the craft. He chose to use a reductionist approach, gradually carving and printing multiple layers of color onto the same block, resulting in visually striking prints with rich textures and vibrant hues (Reigle Newland, 2011).

One unique characteristic of Karhu’s art was his focus on depicting traditional Japanese themes and scenes from daily life. His prints often showcased landscapes, street scenes, and glimpses into the daily routines of Japanese people. Through his art, Karhu captured the essence of Japan’s culture and beauty (Gill, 2018).

Throughout his artistic career, Karhu received recognition and acclaim for his woodblock prints. He became one of the leading Western artists practicing in Japan, and his works were exhibited internationally. His dedication to the craft of woodblock printmaking and his commitment to preserving Japanese artistic traditions made him a respected and influential figure in the art world (Reigle Newland, 2011).


  • Brown, K. M. (2008). Clifton Karhu. Japan Review, 20, 173-179.
  • Gill, A. (2018). Clifton Karhu: The Unseen World of Japan. Floating World Editions.
  • Reigle Newland, A. (2011). The Clarence Buckingham Collection of Japanese Prints. Art Institute of Chicago.