Finnish sculpture made impressive progress internationally in the 1960s and 70s. In Finland several artists of similar age were active at almost the same time, each applying a total mastery of the traditional materials of sculpture to produce works of high quality. Harry Kivijärvi, whose speciality is stone, came to be one of the most successful Finnish visual artists of the time. His selection for the first Ars exhibition in Helsinki in 1961 showed that his art met international standards. By that time, Kivijärvi had adopted an abstract form language. As with numerous sculptors of his generation, his early works in the 1950s were miniature figurative pieces cast in metal.
Kivijärvi did well in the competition for a Sibelius monument announced in 1960, taking second place with a figurative sketch. He came to the awareness of the general public when he won the second round of the competition for a memorial to President J.K. Paasikivi in 1976. He had shared first prize in the first round, in 1970. The Paasikivi memorial, completed in 1980, constitutes a compact, lucid whole. It is made of black diorite. Kivijärvi had already been successful during the 1960s with horizontal or vertical monolithic sculptures in the same spirit, which reflected an admiration for classical art. In the 1980s, reflecting the ideas of the times, he set about making spatial compositions out of slabs of rock. He is a distinguished exponent of monumental art and has made numerous public works. In 1993, he completed a 650th-anniversary monument for the Swedish town of Varberg.
In 1990, Kivijärvi demonstrated his familiarity with the crafts of stonework and stone sculpture throughout history in his book, Miten pyramidit rakennettiin (how were the pyramids built)? In 2001, he displayed his versatility as a visual artist in his 70th birthday exhibition, which included early model drawings, portrait and landscape paintings, prints, tapestries and more.
Kivijärvi has been taking part in important exhibitions in Finland and abroad since the 1960s. He had an extensive solo exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in 1970 and a retrospective at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere in 1985. He was already showing abroad in the 1960s, for instance, in Copenhagen, Paris and London. He has represented Finland at the biennials in Venice, São Paulo, Paris and elsewhere. Kivijärvi's works are in many museums and collections in Finland and the Nordic countries, including Stockholm's Moderna Museet, Louisiana in Denmark and Oslo's Nasjonalgalleriet. Several important collections in Europe and USA also include Kivijärvi's sculptures.
Kivijärvi worked as a teacher at the Institute of Industrial Arts in 1964-68, at the school of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 1968-71 and 1977-80, and as Professor in 1980-82. He was awarded the Pro Finlandia medal in 1970, and Sweden's Prince Eugen Medal in 1987. In 1988, he was made an honorary member of the Association of Finnish Sculptors.
Harry Kivijärvi has held numerous positions of trust, helping raise the standing of sculpture and Finnish art. His intellectual contribution to the development and early years of the Ars Fennica award was also substantial.