John McCracken was born in 1934 in Berkeley, California, and studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. In 1964, he abandoned painting and explored reliefs and freestanding sculpture. A year later, while still a student, he had his first solo exhibition at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles. In 1966, he hit upon what would become his signature form—the plank—and began a teaching career in the newly founded art department of the University of California, Irvine, under the direction of John Coplans. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, during a lull in critical attention, McCracken taught at the University of Nevada in Reno and Las Vegas and the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1985, he moved to Los Angeles and revived his career with newly conceived works and a slew of gallery and museum exhibitions. Major retrospectives of his work were hosted by P.S. 1 (1986–1987) and the Kunsthalle Basel (1995), and his sculpture was prominently featured at Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. McCracken had left Los Angeles in 1994 for Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he continued to work. He died in 2011.