Forced to paint signboards at the age of eleven when his father died, K. S. Kulkarni battled numerous early struggles to achieve a pre-eminent place in modern Indian art. Born in a small village in Belgaum, Kulkarni worked towards a highly individuated pictorial language through an engagement with modernist techniques and mediums. After a diploma in fine art specialising in murals in 1940 from Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay, he came to Delhi in 1943 to work in textile design. Along with artists who had moved from Lahore to Delhi during Partition, K. S. Kulkarni became a member of the city’s All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society and, later, the founder-president of the Delhi Shilpi Chakra. From 1972-78, he served as chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi, Lucknow, and from 1973-78 as vice-chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.
In the treatment of human figures, Kulkarni combined the decorative grace of classical Indian painting inspired by Ajanta, with the vitality of modernism. Kulkarni played with the pure sensuousness of colour and form to heighten the plastic potentiality of form. His is essentially the world of the Indian peasant, swaying with rapture to the hypnotic melody of the shepherd’s flute, riding with the rhythms of the bullock cart. He is not a chronicler of events, and neither does he idealise pastoral existence as an escape from the humdrum existence of the modern city. In fact, he would paint cityscapes using bold, strong outlines and strokes, as a stack of blocks leaning against each other. In his works, the everyday received prime importance, drawn with empathy but not sentimentality.