In preparing to take in the Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience exhibit in Halifax, I had done some reading up on Vincent Van Gogh, his life and his prolific output of work. Much like many folks, my knowledge of Van Gogh was partly based on his painting Starry Night, and partly on the myth surrounding the fact that he lopped off his own ear (he only cut off the lobe).
Even if you don’t do your own research ahead of time, you will get a solid history lesson on Van Gogh before setting foot in the immersion room. There is a winding path that will guide you through the backstory of Vincent Van Gogh, and you will learn about the remarkable relationship that he shared with his brother Theo and the vital role that he played in Vincent’s life. Without Theo, you more than likely wouldn’t have known anything about Vincent or any of these impressive works of art, because during his life Van Gogh sold only a single painting. It was after his death, that Theo’s herculean belief in the talent of his eldest brother and as an established art dealer, resulted in the proliferation of Vincent’s art.
It’s hard to believe that Vincent only really spent a decade of his life as a “painter”, and you can see through these pieces that he started out as an impressionist, but gradually moved away from the realism of these scenes and their associated colour palettes. Starry Night is a great example of his post-impressionist work, as you see the bold colour choices and long sweeping brushstrokes that provide more of an interpretation of a scene as opposed to a pure depiction of it. At the behest of Theo, as Vincent struggled with mental illness, (Paul) Gaugin was asked to work alongside him in an effort to keep watch.
During that time, the story goes that Vincent and Gaugin regularly disagreed and argued, ultimately resulting in the loss of an ear lobe after a bitter dispute between the two. That alchemy of discord, mental illness, and inner turmoil resulted in some of the most beautiful works ever committed to canvas. The path into the exhibit featured excerpts of Vincent’s correspondence to Theo, so you got a real sense of how deep the admiration ran between the two brothers, and you got an insight into the artist that usually isn’t readily available, and informs some of the art you see displayed.
With all of that history presented, it still doesn’t quite prepare your senses for what they will experience over the next 40+ minutes. You first have to spend a couple of minutes in the “Waterfall” room to get your eyes and brain calibrated, then you walk into the main gallery room. Here you can see the myriad of patrons watching the displays, and some milling about in an attempt to take it all in. In my experience, it would take a minimum of two passes to feel that I was able to see everything. On this visit, my wife and two kids (11 & 5) were along for the experience. My oldest was quite taken with the work being displayed, meanwhile, my youngest was onboard for the initial viewing, but was ready to roll shortly thereafter.
If you are a fan of art, this is an exciting way to experience a solid swath of his works, including his numerous self-portraits, or a sampling of his Sunflower series. There is so much to take in, it is an exhibit that deserves to be experienced. It’s an interesting look at the life, work and legacy of a troubled soul who created some beautiful work.