“I’d like to walk with you there to find out whether we look at things the same way,” artist Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother in the fall of 1885.
Nearly 140 years later, millions of people around the world — thousands of them from the Valley — can see the world the way Van Gogh did.
Beyond Van Gogh, a touring art exhibit honoring the Dutch post-Impressionist, has extended its run at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center through Aug. 21.
The immersive experience, created by French-Canadian creative director Mathieu St-Arnaud and his team at Montreal’s Normal Studio, aims to put patrons inside more than 300 of the artist’s greatest works. Patrons will not view paintings like “The Starry Night,” “Sunflowers” and “Café Terrace at Night” from the outside looking in, but from inside the art itself.
“Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” takes on the challenge of breathing new life into Van Gogh’s vast body of work. Through the use of cutting-edge 3D projection technology and music to illuminate all of his genius, guests can experience the artist with all their senses,” St-Arnaud said in a release.
The exhibit begins with screens explaining the life of the artist. Empty picture frames hang in the air by invisible wires, a clue that Van Gogh found beauty in everything and found art everywhere.
Van Gogh, the exhibit explains, found the beauty in simple things. A pair of boots, unused chairs, sunflowers, the faces of strangers and the night sky of Paris are but a few subjects that come alive during the experience, which lasts about one hour.
Utilizing 30,000 square-feet and four trillion pixels of light, the experience projects the artist’s influential and powerful work all around, above and below patrons. Van Gogh’s loose brush strokes are recreated, swirling overhead and side to side as patrons spin to keep up.
Birds, frozen in place for over a century on Van Gogh’s canvas, are free to fly again. Portraits blink. Dutch windmills spin in the breeze once more, the tide rolls in after dark. Visitors will find themselves on the beach, then in an orchard, then preparing potatoes in a dark room.
The vastness of the prolific artist’s works come to life in every color the artist could afford to paint with.
Van Gogh, a tragic figure, failed as an art dealer and later as a pastor before devoting his life to painting for a living — such as it was. He lived in poverty and dealt with mental illness — he famously cut his own ear off after a fight with his brother and perhaps his most famous work, “The Starry Night,” was inspired by the view outside his window at a mental asylum.
It is believed that Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. Seven months before his death, he sold “The Red Vineyard” for 400 francs. Believing himself to be a failure, he took his own life in 1890 at age 37.
Thanks to a posthumous critical re-assessment, Van Gogh is now seen as one of the most influential figures in art. His works, of which more than 2,000 were completed in a span of about a decade, now regularly sell for tens of millions of dollars.
Perhaps the most breathtaking moments of the experience, in their own way, are when the screens are wiped clean by an invisible cloth or by what appears to be the rain. We’re left with an empty canvas, wondering “is it over,” but hopeful for whatever beauty may be next.
Perhaps in that way the exhibit successfully conveys Van Gogh’s perspective — an artist who experienced the lowest of lows but also saw deeply into the beauty of life.
Beyond Van Gogh runs through Aug. 21 at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center Exhibit Hall 1, 2336 Kern St., Fresno. Tickets can be purchased at https://vangoghfresno.com.