James Denmark was born on March 23, 1936 in Winter Haven, Florida. He would be reared in a family of artists and this type of upbringing greatly influenced his life, including culturally and artistically. In the biography of James Denmark in “Arts in Embassies” of the U.S. Department of State website, it’s shared that his mother was “gifted with an intuitive feeling for design and fastidiousness for detail which she expressed in all aspects of her daily life”. His grandfather, who labored as a bricklayer, was celebrated for his design molds that were custom created. His grandmother was an exceptional artist, sculpting wire and creating quilts from diverse textiles.
From a young age, he was encouraged to create and considers his grandparents as his earliest inspirations. Aspects of African-American life is emphasized in his work and while Black women are significant in his art, so are Black men. In “James Denmark: Artists Vibes from Low Country” posted by Sylvia Wong Lewis on the Narrative Network website, he sourced the males, including more than thirty male first cousins, in his family as being integral to his being grounded and balanced. In the article, Denmark asserted, “As boys, we were held to a task in the Southern tradition where manhood was stressed. When you reached 12, you were considered a man. Each of us had to mind our manners, excel in school, be responsible, develop skills and talents in a lot of things.”
Upon graduating from high school, James Denmark matriculated Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU), a historically Black university in Tallahassee, Florida. While he attended FAMU on an athletic scholarship, he pursued a degree in fine arts. Denmark felt privileged to experience being able to learn from accomplished and acclaimed African-American art professionals. In the Wong Lewis article, he remarked, “I was mentored by Black professors at FAMU (Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Fla.) where I was admitted on a sports scholarship. I became an apprentice to noted art historian Dr. Samella Lewis. FAMU at that time had the best, brightest and largest number of Black art faculty in the world. All of them had PhDs and advanced degrees in fine arts, architecture, engineering. As I was an honor student, they each mentored me by making me their apprentice – in drawing, painting, design, graphics, sculpture, ceramics and most importantly, the African-American art movement. I taught classes as their assistant while still an undergrad student.”