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Datebook: No Such Thing As Too Big, Too Different at Hangar Art Co.

Breanna Grow
Features like seating areas, a bar, pool table and jukebox are all aimed at encouraging visitors to stop in at Hangar Art Co. -- and stay awhile.

At first blush, a pandemic doesn’t sound like a great time to open a gallery. But if there is such a thing as a silver lining when it comes to COVID-19, the owners of Hangar Art Co. seem to have found one.

As the name suggests, Hangar is big -- 4,500 square feet, to be exact.

Santino Lamancusa had something much smaller in mind when he was looking for a shop to sell his photography. And then he came across the former Half Hazard Press suite on East Jefferson Street in downtown Bloomington.

Looking at those big blank walls got Lamancusa thinking about a piece of art he’d recently bought online from local painter Jeff Bess.

“It was a large piece, it was 3 feet by 4 feet, and the painting was called, ‘Life is a Highway,’ and it featured a roadkill opossum that was smiling, floating out of the sky, just a surreal piece,” said Lamancusa.

Bess told Lamancusa the piece had been sitting around his studio for some time. Just where in town would one exhibit a giant roadkill opossum?

“And so that kind of struck me that there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for artists to showcase big, statement pieces, those large canvases that they create just out of their own passion, not necessarily for a commission or a specific purpose,” said Lamancusa.

And, that gave him a big idea.

“We could feature large original works from local artists that people around town might not have seen before,” he said. “And to know that there’s a place where they can find that mantle piece or that big family room showcase piece actually from a real local person rather than a big box store, I felt like it was an opportunity to provide something that we were kind of lacking here in downtown.”

Bess is now one of 11 artists currently showing at Hangar Art Company. Just steps away from Bess’s darkly surreal scenes, rainbow figures dance across the works of Chicago-based painter Peter Thaddeus.

In a normal year, Thaddeus would be working the Chicago art festival circuit. But in 2020, Thaddeus struggled to show his work online.

“It was...not great,” said Thaddeus, laughing.

His exhibition at Hangar includes three pieces from his Pride series. 

“It’s all about life, love and pride and all the vibrancy of the LGBTQ community,” Thaddeus explained.

Lamancusa said he’s most excited to show “Vogue,” a piece that pays homage to the queer people of color of the 1980s Harlem ballroom scene. Figures bathed in color pose dance with a fluidity that’s come to define Thaddeus’s whimsical style.

Credit Courtesy / Peter Thaddeus
Peter Thaddeus
“Vogue” pays homage to the queer people of color of the 1980s Harlem ballroom scene.

“Peter’s work is something I thought of immediately as just not being represented anywhere around here,” Lamancusa said. “I haven’t seen work like his from any other local artist.”

Gallery co-owner Aianna Zachary said “different” seems to be what visitors are craving.

“I have seen everyone of all ages, genders, everyone stops and looks and smiles,” she said. “It’s bright, it’s interactive, it’s loving, it’s positive. It opens a dialogue into some things and ideas that we’re not always talking about.”

Zachary said getting people talking is a major aim at Hangar.

“When I moved here, there wasn’t a place like this: a big space, not just for art to be but for people to be; a gathering place where people could share ideas, come to work, get inspiration,” she said.

Zachary and Lamancusa said they wanted the space itself to encourage visitors to come in and stay awhile. So they included seating, kept the bar, and added a pool table and a jukebox. The space also includes a stage that Zachary said they plan to use for live performances.

“What we’ve seen as people come in is we’re attracting not just visual artists but artists of every kind,” she said. “As we meet with more writers, musicians, performers, we are getting closer and closer to having those types of presences here.”

Both Zachary and Lamancusa said the positive feedback from the arts community is gratifying, but it’s even more encouraging to watch their featured artists enjoy the exposure.

Pat Boyer exhibits his sculptures under the name Fort Coyote. Boyer fashions figurines from reclaimed wood and scrap parts from computers, tools and farm equipment that, despite their robotic appearance, are full of personality.

Zachary remembered the first time Boyer sold a piece at Hangar.

“Seeing Pat’s face the first time somebody bought something or even wanted to talk to him about his work, because he hadn’t had that opportunity before...it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things, and we were honored to be a part of that.”

From first-time exhibitors to diverse subject matter, to tucked-away works from longtime artists, visitors at Hangar are likely to encounter something they’ve never seen before -- something that makes Lamancusa extremely proud.

Follow Hangar Art Co. on Facebook to find upcoming events and artist features.

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.