Stirred by the frankness of the paintings of his impressionist heroes, James works mainly in oil. His paintings are a harmony of material surface and subject matter that invite the viewer into the construction of the paintings: what lays beneath the focal plane referred to as finish. A figure painter for six decades, Harrington has documented the lives, ethic, and experience that distinguish America.
Born in New York in 1929, he followed a tour of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps by enrolling at the Art Students League. Working as an apprentice bricklayer on a Manhattan high-rise building during the day and taking classes at the League at night made him embrace self-education as the catalyst to producing the expressions of self which were his goal. Harrington focused on the teachings of Robert Henri (1865-1929) complied by Marery Ryerson in her book, Art Spirit. A distinguished instructor at the League, Henri was the keystone of the New York based group of urban life painters that became known as “The Ashcan School.”
Adhering to the tenets of Henri, Harrington was both determined and destined to forgo participation in juried exhibits wherever possible, throughout an experience that has spanned over a half century of painting. He still maintains his vision and the same singular determination in his approach to art. Responding to questions about a philosophy shared with Henri, Harrington comments that being out of step with his peers has its share of drawbacks but adds that he considers the versatility of subjects he has maintained in his paintings to be the “pedigree” he never earned in the competition he chose to forswear.
Given the opportunity, he is quick to express that the only artists he is in competition with is himself and that he challenges that self each day to express the message of every new painting in penetrating, readable ways.