James Strombotne was born in Watertown, South Dakota. He was raised and educated in Southern California; receiving his Bachelor of Arts from Pomona College in 1956 and his Master of Fine Arts from the Claremont Graduate School in 1959. He received a fellowship from Pomona College to study in Italy, and in 1962 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for further study in Rome. The same year, a feature article about his work appeared in Time Magazine.
Strombotne’s first one-man show was at the Studio 44 gallery in San Francisco in 1956. Since then, he has had over seventy five one-man shows, with twelve retrospectives: four in New York City, twenty-two in Los Angeles, and others in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Santa Barbara, Santa Fe, Newport Beach, and other venues.