By Raymundo Muñoz
Over the course of three years or so, local artist Thomas Scharfenberg has been painting the walls of DIY music venue Rhinoceropolis just about every color and pattern imaginable. That sounds like a lot to take in — and it is — but if you allow yourself complete immersion into “Tom’s World,” it starts to make beautiful sense.
Tom’s an unassuming sort. He takes time to speak, and when he does, it isn’t immediately mind-blowing. He has a slow and sleepy way that’s pleasing but maddening if you’re highly caffeinated. He’s a simple and agreeable stoner in many respects, and it’s easy to write him off as such. All those qualities, though, allow him a long-play that in time (if not now) will reveal something epic and brilliant.
Consider his interconnected street art projects “Race-High Block-Walk,” “Alternate Addresses,” “Physical Pixel,” and “Ground Constellations.” High-concept stuff played out over years of quiet work in dimly/harshly lit places with little/no fanfare. Just look at his Instagram: he posts video of water ripples and shadows and sunrises in the worn-down (soon-to-be gentrified) industrial settings north of downtown. Tom is obsessed with color and pattern, no matter where they are, and the ways he processes this obsession is awe-inspiring.
Walking into the front room of Rhinoceropolis is a punk-ish scene — grimy, poorly lit, authentic as fuck. But stepping through the short hallway into the main room reminds me of the psychedelic boat scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Colors and patterns EVERYWHERE. Given the common room environment, it would be easy to dismiss it all as “cool,” “dope,” “crazy,” “sick,” or “trippy” and just go on about your ways. But there’s something holy there.
I got the feeling of being in a cathedral, brimming with stained glass, and having it all exploding around me. Or being a shiny ball-bearing snicked, bumped, and sliding around a garish pinball machine in a smokey bar room. Or watching twenty neighborhoods competing for best fireworks display all at the same time. A lot to process.
But I remembered Tom and the way he is, and that I was in his world — time and space operate differently here.
So, I put my neurosis in check, slowed down, and ventured to the back room first, finding strange solace in a row of hanging bicycles. From here, I began my journey.
To be continued…