Artist transforms Ann Arbor garage into backyard gallery, concert hall

ANN ARBOR, MI – The four-car garage in Charles Hooper’s backyard had no heating or finishing when he started using it as an art studio.

Several years and eight weeks of renovations later, it is now a workspace, a concert hall and an art gallery open to the public. Works of art hang on the walls and instruments, including a piano and organ, are tucked away in the back room.

The Gray Box Gallery, which still smells of new construction, opened on July 17 at 7395 Warren Road.

The ride, said Hooper, “can’t really be beat.”

“It’s like 34 steps from home,” he said.

Hooper began renovating the space in early 2020 after using it for several years as a makeshift art studio. It was originally a space to store his instruments after the music room in his house started to fill up.

“I kept getting instruments and the room was getting smaller and smaller,” Hooper said.

In addition to painting, Hooper plays the piano, organ, harp, bassoon and trombone, and sings. Hooper, a Detroit-born artist who moved to Georgia when he was young, returned to Michigan seven years ago with his partner and fellow artist, Rob Stephenson.

Like his other skills, Hooper began cultivating his painting in high school, creating and selling paintings at the time.

“When you are in school you try to follow all the rules,” he said. “Growing up, traditional stuff just wasn’t for me. I slipped into the most modern.

Although he also does landscapes, Hooper’s main vein is modern art, a mixture of colors and textures. Hooper said he takes inspiration from music and nature, adding that music and painting are similar in that they each have different layers and aspects working together.

He named three pieces after sonatas, bringing them together through paint textures and similar palettes. He titled another piece – the largest in the gallery – “Symphony,” something Hooper said is a nod to the symphonies themselves being large and colorful.

Other inspirations include the flower garden outside the studio, the ocean, and her travels around the world.

Although he mainly works in acrylics and watercolors, Hooper said he also recently purchased a set of oil paintings.

“I just don’t have the courage to go there yet,” he said.

One of the most difficult aspects of his style is knowing when to stop.

“I feel like they’re not finished if there’s white on them,” Hooper said.

Once the coronavirus pandemic “gets under control,” Hooper said he plans to hold recitals in space. For now, the Gray Box Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Visitors can also make an appointment to visit the gallery.

“Basically it’s a live space where people can come and see the art in person,” Hooper said.

Find Gray Box Gallery online on Facebook and Etsy or call 734-408-1226.

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