Award: Research & Development Grant

Discipline: Visual Arts

Project Collaborator(s):

City/Town: Tucson

Year: 2020

Artist Website:

I believe we need a new art for a new reality that’s looming: a time of systems collapse, mass migration, pared-down lives, gift economy. Art made of natural materials. Portable “pocket art” that contains large energy in a very small talisman. That can be carried in saddlebags or a backpack. That functions more as a portal into a deeper reality than a portrayal of it, and is passed along as needed.

In 2013, Katie Cooper undertook a 7-month mule ride, traversing 1600 miles from Mississippi to Tucson. Though an accomplished painter, Cooper set aside her practice for that journey. Now, Cooper plans to retrace her steps, but this time in a an “Art Wagon,” a cargo van fully outfitted to function as a live-work art studio.

“I’d be expanding upon the work I’ve been doing from memories of movement through the land and levels of perception,” the artist wrote in her proposal. Specifically, she will combine Google Earth overviews with ground-level visual “mapping” of physical and nonphysical features.

While she’ll use traditional mediums suitable for travel–like watercolor and ink–Cooper will also research and practice techniques for making paper out of recycled materials and experiment with local plants, minerals, and clays to create pigments. She hopes to learn from people she meets in her travels who might have knowledge of such things.

Along the way, she will also reconnect with as many of the people she met on her previous journey as she can. As she does, she will revisit earlier conversations that inform the thematic backbone of her project.

“Many country people I met while traveling expressed grief and alarm at the ecological changes they’d been seeing,” the artist reported. “They are as close to the earth as anyone. Their stories haunted me, while their strength and good cheer kept me going.”

For the artist, the project is as much about these interpersonal connections as it is about her connection to the land.

“I’ve spent a big chunk of my time on this planet alone, in the brush, being still and staring at things. Listening. Feeling wind, sand, rock. Sensing the connection. I feel an obligation to create work that speaks to others who share this sense of connection, including many of those I met on the back roads. We all share a distress at what is happening and urgent need for change.”

Cooper feels an obligation to serve the communities she visits, as well. In addition to operating as a mobile home and art studio, Coopers Art Wagon will function as a mobile community art space. Stocked with art books and prints, art supplies, a folding table and chairs, and canopy, the artist will invite community members to visit, peruse, and learn alongside the artist.

Work Samples

Unmarked Road by Katie Cooper

48″ x 30″ oil and oilstick on textured acrylic base on canvas, 2018.

InterMap 7 by Katie Cooper

9″x11″ alkyd over textured acrylic base on canvas, 2020.


Katie Cooper is a visual artist who uses the ambiguity and formal elements of visual language to explore and evoke the intersection of seen and unseen worlds, which she perceives as key to ecological survival. Cooper graduated from Loretto Heights College in Colorado and earned her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she spent 10 years as a working artist before returning to her Western roots. She has shown extensively in Arizona, New York, Colorado and Texas, engaged in occasional installation/performance art, supervised community public-art projects, and been artist-in-residence at schools through the Residency Roster of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Cooper maintains a studio in Pima County.

Artist photo by Timothy McCaffrey