Born in Karnataka, Kulkarni studied at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Bombay. He had his first one-man show in 1945, organized by the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society. In 1948 he founded the Triveni Kala Sangam where he served as Director of the Art Department until 1968. In 1955, he was awarded the first of his three national awards and in 1958 he traveled through Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Brazil and came into contact with the Mayan and Inca civilizations which were to become an important influence in his work. In 1962, Kulkarni was elected to the General Council of the Lalit Kala Academy. The artist passed away in 1994.