Born in North Carolina, Harrill chose academic schools in Maine, New York, and Washington to further his artistic experience. In the 1960's, he traveled to Greece to paint, to teach, and to exhibit. New Mexico was his home from the 1970's onwards because he found the light, landscape, and the atmosphere conducive to the peaceful lifestyle that he loved. He continued to travel to Greece yearly, thereby renewing his fascination with the architecture of that ancient part of the world.
Harrill's work has been exhibited in galleries in Athens, Beirut and Zurich. Of his work, Harrill said he had a "fascination with the elemental forms of squares, circles and triangles, the cornerstones of my paintings."
The canvases focus on dramatic contrasts. "Two colors dominate them: white and blue. But within those two colors, Harrill created vast ranges of subtlety. The white facades of his buildings vary from a bleached lack of color, to cool blue-grey and warm beige-pink undertones. The hypnotic blue skies range in shade from a pale tint associated with New Mexico to a deeper, more ultramarine blue reserved for depictions of the Mediterranean. And punctuating these expanses are touches of red, umber, orange and brown - reference points which rivet the eye, however momentarily, as it wanders over the architectural landscape (Southwest Art, Feb 85)."
James Harrill spent his last years in his own domain, living
out a peaceful existence, in touch with the past and positive
about the future.