Karunakaran, a diploma holder from School of Arts and Crafts, Madras in the 1960s, has studied under renowned artists D.P. Roy Choudhari and K.C.S. Panikker. His contemporaries include leading artists like S.G. Vasudev, Akkitham Narayanan, Viswanathan, Muthukoya, K.Damodaran and prominent members of the artists based at Cholamandal, including Adimoolam. The late painter T.K. Padmini was also his contemporary. Noted illustrator Namboothiri studied at Madras School of Arts and Crafts as his junior.
After completing his studies, Karunakaran continued to live in Chennai for a few more years, dabbling with art direction in films and making ad films. In fact, he was in Chennai for 25 years. During that time, the Kerala Kalapeetom (then Kerala Institute of Arts) opened in Kochi . Karunakaran returned to Kerala in 1970, to take charge of Kalapeetom. For three years, he continued at Kalapeetom, but later quit to setup his own private art gallery, Chitrakootam, in Ernakulam.

Karunakaran's works are noted for his highly stylised figures and the intricately decorative patterns that weave across the pictorial surface. But, during his student days in Madras, he had done only landscapes, recalls Karunakaran. "I had a fear of bringing figures into my drawings or paintings," he says. For a year, after leaving college, he had worked with the painter Srinivasalu, who was a contemporary of K.C.S. Panikker. He was in charge of the Design Demonstration Centre where Karunakaran worked for one year. "Srinivasalu was greatly influenced by the work of Jamini Roy and used to do very much stylised figures," recalls Karunakaran. That was how Karunakaran started upon his particular idiom of heavily ornate, stylised figuration. Later, the figures evolved more, under the influence of Indian traditional murals and miniatures

Today Karunakaran works from his private studio set in his house. He lives in Cochin, Kerala, with his wife, children and grand children.
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