American Frame: Where are you from originally?
Laurin McCracken: I grew up in little towns all over Mississippi. I’m a pure Scots-Irish product of the diaspora that took all the Scots-Irish out of Scotland, then to Belfast, then to the U.S.
When I was in the 7th grade, I knew I wanted to be an architect. In high school, I got a job working for the best architect in Meridian, Mississippi. My boss had gone to Auburn as an undergraduate. I didn’t know about having a “backup school,” so I only applied to Auburn. Luckily, I got in. While there, I earned a scholarship to Rice University in Houston. I had two more years to go to school, and since Rice offered a full scholarship, I went there rather than go back to Auburn. At Rice, I was in the ROTC program. I went into the military and extended my two years into three and spent most of that time in Germany. Then I went to Princeton for a two-year joint program in architecture and urban planning. After that, I worked in architecture firms in New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. I never went back to Mississippi.
How long did you practice architecture before you became a painter?
I practiced architecture until I was in my late 60s, almost 70. I started painting the year I turned 60. I was living in Alexandra, Virginia when I started taking watercolor classes.
How do you describe your style?
I paint in a high degree of realism. Not photo realism, like some acrylic painters. It’s my interpretation of realism. One of my guiding quotes is by Henry Thoreau. “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” As an architect, you’re trained to see. The gothic cathedrals are a great example. From a distance, their handsome shape draws you in. The closer you get, the more detail you see, like the sculpture on the top of the flying buttresses. Then, you notice the arches of the windows. When you get up close, you see the texture of the stone and the carvings. It continues inside. At every point, there is another layer of detail to be appreciated. Everyone else sees the trees in the forest. I see the trunk of the tree, the limbs, leaves and veins on the leaves on the tree in the forest.
And in your paintings?
My paintings are painted to view in a gallery or home from about six to eight feet away, an optimum viewing distance. From there, you don’t see brush strokes. You just see the shape of that pear. I don’t paint every little dot on the pear. The viewer’s mind will do that because your mind knows what a pear looks like. If I can replicate the pear close enough to reality, you will see it as reality.