Issai Kulvianski was born into a well-off Jewish family in Jonava (now in Lithuania) in 1892. He began drawing at the age of six. His father, was an ornamental carpenter and encouraged his son’s talent. Kulvianski enrolled at the State Art School in Vilnius in 1908, completing his studies in 1911. His teacher there was the sculptor Lev Moiseevich Antokolsky. Kulvianski also worked concurrently at the Jewish handicrafts school in a freelance capacity, whose director Frankl supported him. In late 1911, he was given a scholarship to enable him to continue his studies in Berlin. He enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin in 1912, where he studied under the sculptor Hugo Kaufmann and also attended the classes of Max Liebermann and Hermann Struck. In 1913, Kulvianski travelled to Paris, where he stayed at the La Ruche artists’ house. Despite having many friends in Paris, Kulvianski returned to Berlin in 1914, where he exhibited in the gallery of Fritz Gurlitt. In the First World War he was drafted into the Russian Army in place of his brother, who had heart disease. He was taken prisoner and spent 1915 to 1918 in a POW camp in Brux (today Most in Czechia). Kulvianski returned to Berlin, and in 1918 began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts there. In 1919, Kulvianski married Grete Robitscheck in Berlin. In 1920 he became a member of the November Group, and in 1923 of the Imperial Association of Visual Artists. In 1927, Kulvianski took part in the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in the Glaspalast.
Kulvianski left Germany in 1933 after receiving warnings from friends. He emigrated to Palestine, though he had to leave almost all his paintings behind. He managed to escape, but his mother Riwa and other family members were later shot by the SS. Once in exile, he co-founded the Association of Painters and Sculptors in Israel in 1934. In 1934/35, Kulvianski and the sculptor Georg Leschnitzer set up their own art school in Tel Aviv. In 1938, Kulvianski designed a Jewish Palestine Pavilion for the New York World’s Fair. He married Susi Offenbacher from Nuremberg in 1940, and in 1949 they left Israel and lived between England, Holland, France and Germany; in 1958, Kulvianski was awarded German citizenship. In 1969, Kulvianski again settled in Berlin.