Many have read of the Van Gogh exhibit being reproduced in cities across the globe. During these turbulent times it is no wonder many people are drawn to the artist’s life. The success of the exhibition, despite the global pandemic, had me thinking on a deeper level. I was eventually able to visit the much talked about art experience recently. Upon entering the sunflower themed archway, you find framed panels with snippets of art history and auction prices including the astronomically priced sold pieces of Van Gogh. The “Vase with Carnations” greets you in the next space, a beautifully rendered three-dimensional version depicting all the colorful versions of the original painting. With brilliant lighting, and special effects, it felt like one could hold the vase and smell the flowers. All around the room, one can find illuminated reproductions of Van Gogh ‘s most popular works, a vast number of florals. There are sunflowers galore in all sizes and variations paying tribute to the abundantly found flower in the Provence area Van Gogh loved so much.
In a corner is a recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, in the yellow house. Sitting in the chair placed in the room was an experience and a good photo opportunity. This was one of the thrills of the exhibition. This was a room Van Gogh adored. He deliberately distorted it in a trapezoid shape, to give the corner wall a skewed appearance. Perhaps to acknowledge a challenge he faced as an artist, of drawing perfectly straight lines. This was a place he had created to welcome fellow artists in an intimate atmosphere, and to honor them. Van Gogh was extremely proud of his rendition. In his own words, “I think this bedroom is my best work” His love of color is evident in the choices he made for the walls, furniture, pillows etc. The original bedroom had walls of purple, windows painted green and the furniture a golden hue reflective of the lavender fields of Provence in Southern France. In fact, he loved this painting so much, he recreated it two more times with subtle changes. This bedroom has rapidly become the most famous bedroom in art history. I found the paintings on the bedroom wall very interesting. These were paintings of his close friends Eugene Boch and Paul-Eugene Milliet.
At the end of the exhibits, in the large open space, the immersive version of the art is displayed on all four walls, a 360-degree projection including the carpeted floor, the benches, lounge chairs and floor poufs. Music and narration accompany the immersive experience, as the light, color, and movement extravaganza take your breath away. For a minute it was so easy to forget that we were in the midst of a serious pandemic, as we surreally visited 19th century Europe. The letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo are narrated throughout the projection, to give it a realistic feel. Although Van Gogh is known for his artistic talent, not much is said about his literary skills. What an extraordinary experience it was to feel bathed in colors as each painting is displayed and rotated in a stunning manner to arrest the senses, with glorious images of flowers, stars, and galaxies under your feet.
Nature comes to life in a remarkably surreal way, whether you are transported to the starlit galaxy of “The Starry Night” or the haystacks in rural Europe or swaying among the almond trees, you feel the exhilaration of being alive. If you are a fan of purple as I am, you will enjoy the profusion of this color, and the sheer delight of being one with nature, a truly unforgettable experience. You feel the anguish of the sorrowing old man as he shakes in the corner, a reminder of Van Gogh ‘s own frustration and struggle with his illness and mental collapse. This painting titled “At Eternity’s Gate” seems a reflection of his agony, although conveying a message of hope and life.Whatever the mystery surrounding his death, the artwork he produced so rapidly during his abbreviated lifetime is a great source of joy and inspiration.
Midway through the presentation I was moved to tears, I started sobbing silently and uncontrollably. This is so unlike me as I am not a crier. Was it an overwhelming emotion that swept me away as an artist myself? Or was it a reflection of the genius Van Gogh, who faced critical abuse during his lifetime and is posthumously being celebrated and appreciated as the greatest post-impressionists of all time. Witnessing the total awe and wonder of fellow attendees seemed such a contrast to the rejection and contempt that Van Gogh experienced: A life of starvation, loneliness, and condemnation in his own native land, resulting in a tragic end.
“The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting” Vincent Van Gogh.