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Yesterday and today, side by side in McCracken's "Ottoman Still Life."

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Artist Laurin McCracken is trying to achieve "a modern day parallel" to 16th and 17th century Dutch still-life paintings.

McCracken's vision of still life is a-changing

By Fredric Koeppel
October 8, 2004

Laurin McCracken took his first watercolor class five years ago.

This month, his work is featured on the cover of Watercolor magazine, and inside is an article by magazine editor-in-chief M. Stephen Doherty that discusses McCracken's techniques and philosophy.

McCracken, 61, a member of the American Institute of Architects, is marketing and strategies officer of Looney Ricks Kiss Architects in Memphis. Born in Meridian, Miss., McCracken has a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of architecture from Rice University and a master's in architecture and urban planning from Princeton.

His response to this attention is, "I'm just learning along with everybody else."

The artist's principle inspiration is the Dutch still-life painters of the 16th and 17th centuries.

"Part of it is just the beauty of the objects," McCracken said, "the cut-crystal vases and pitchers, sterling silver, beautiful fabrics, antique porcelain. If I had been an artist in 17th Century Holland, that's what I would have wanted to set up to paint. I'm fortunate to have friends in the Delta who have lovely heritage silver, and I like reminding people that these are important treasures they possess."

Though McCracken has worked in marketing away from the drawing board for 25 years, he sees a connection between architectural design and his intricate still-life paintings.

"From a training standpoint, I know how to do detail things. And what I do is so strategic from the planning standpoint, you know, what you're going to paint first, what second, what last. And in a water-based medium there are all sorts of surprises. So architecturally, I like the process."

McCracken admits that his technique implies a certain obsessive nature and bravado approach.

"Absolutely," he said, "this is why in those paintings there's always a plate positioned just over the edge of the table, to show you that the artist really knew the mathematics of perspective and could handle it."

McCracken said that he is trying to move his still-life efforts "into a more modern genre, a modern day parallel."

As an example, McCracken, who exhibits at a gallery in Seaside, Fla., "went into 12 shops in the town center in Seaside and chose an object from each and did a still-life from those. There was a fabulous chrome martini shaker combined with some lovely fabrics and camellias."

McCracken lives in South Bluffs. He paints in an extra bedroom lined with windows. He is fortunate to have the complete support of his company in his job and his avocation. "I devote the first week of each month to painting," he said, "though I can be at the office in five minutes, and in a typical painting week I'll still go in two or three times."