William Y. Cooper is a painter, printmaker, muralist, writer, and illustrator who lives in Buffalo, New York. He attended the University at Buffalo, earning his BFA in Fine Arts in 1975. In addition to practicing art in numerous mediums, he is also a New York State certified art teacher.
His work—which incorporates aspects of his American experience and African heritage—is conceptual and metaphorical. Of his thematic and stylistic approach, he explains, “I am an Afrocentric artist. My world view is rooted in an African frame of reference and a deep, abiding sense of the creator from whence I draw my inspiration, strength and a sense of who I am. The use of symbols allows me to explore literal ideas.”
Cooper has been exhibiting his work locally and internationally since 1969. He has had fifteen solo exhibitions, showing his work in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and the National Art Gallery in Ghana, West Africa. His work has been included in over twenty-six group exhibitions.
In 2001, Cooper was one of ten artists selected for the Pan American Exhibition “Art Across Borders” project, where he created five large murals for the Women’s Pavilion celebrating women from African-American history. Black Woman as Warrior featured depictions of Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hames, Rosa Parks, and Marva Collins. As an artist and teacher, he is ever-mindful of merging historical elements with his creative output.
An experienced muralist, he has also produced commissioned public works in Buffalo, including I Have a Dream: Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1982) for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch Public Library, and Centennial Mural (1992) for the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers.
In early 2010, Cooper authored the children’s book, 77 Jackson Street, Rear. A coming-of-age adventure incorporating historical issues from African-American history, Cooper’s main character, twelve-year-old Denmark, finds himself searching for a father he has never known. During the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, Denmark and his friend Odi are kidnapped and held for ransom by three men who think they are the sons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He is the recipient of numerous awards in recognition of his artistic practice. He was twice honored by the Arts Council in Buffalo & Erie County: in 1996 with a New York State Council on the Arts DEC Grant, and in 1997 with the Annual Professional Artist Award. In 1997, he was presented with a Community Artist Recognition Award by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. He is engaged with his field through community service and professional memberships with the National Conference of Artists, the Alliance of African American Artists in America and the Afrocentric Artists’ Collective, which he founded and directed from 1979-1981.
Cooper resides in Buffalo, with his wife Glendora Johnson-Cooper and his two cats. He is the father of three sons: Michael, Yancy, and Joel; and grandfather of four grandchildren: Erik, JC, Jaxon, and Kristina. He works from his studio at the Buffalo Arts Studio in the Tri-Main Building.