John studied at the California College of the Arts, graduating in 1962 with Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
In 1965, while still a student, McCracken showed his painted and slotted wooden sculptures at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles. The following year he began a distinguished teaching career at the newly founded art department of the University of California, Irvine, under the direction of John Coplans.
The same year, in 1966, McCracken generated his signature sculptural form: the plank, a narrow, monochromatic, rectangular board format that leans at an angle against the wall (the site of painting) while simultaneously entering into the three-dimensional realm and physical space of the viewer. He conceived the plank idea in a period, when artists across the stylistic spectrum were combining aspects of painting and sculpture in their work and many were experimenting with sleek, impersonal surfaces.
In addition to the planks, the artist also created wall pieces and free-standing sculptures in varying geometrical shapes and sizes, ranging from smaller forms on pedestals to large-scale, outdoor structures in the shape of pyramids, ziggurats, tetrahedrons and occasionally crystals.
During the period from 1971 to 1972 he created a rarely seen series of paintings based on Hindu and Buddhist mandalas, first shown at Castello di Rivoli in 2011.
Since the mid-1960 till the mid-1980, McCracken served as a teacher at different universities, including University of California in Irvine and Los Angeles, School of Visual Arts in New York, University of Nevada in Reno and Las Vegas and others.
In his recent years, he made complex geometric sculptures for the wall and floor, using fiberglass and pigmented resin, as well as polished stainless steel.
John's works were shown at different museums, including Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and others. Also, one of his solo exhibitions took place in Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 2009.
An avid believer in extraterrestrials and time travel, John saw his works as both an approximation of the possible artistic production of an alien race and a metaphor for a connection between two worlds.
John married Gail Barringer, an artist, on May 4, 1991. The couple gave birth to two children — David and Patrick.