Starry, Starry Night, Immersively
Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Vincent - Don McLean
As Darling Daughter and I visited Beyond Van Gogh Orange County: The Immersive Experience at the Anaheim (California) Convention Center, I shared with her that I’ve never known where my middle name came from.
Not knowing, I’ve made up my own backstory. In that story, my parents hoped I would become an artist and thus named me after one of the most famous artists of all time, Vincent Van Gogh.
That's also the reason I have an especially strong fondness for Don McLean's song, Vincent. When I told this part of the story to Darling Daughter, she gave me one of “those” looks a child is so often known to give their parent. If you’re a parent you know that look, the one where it’s obvious we’ve suddenly grown a third eye.
As I continued to tell her it was the B-side to American Pie, her look almost literally said that in addition to a third eye, I'd also grown a second nose.
American Pie and, with it, Vincent were released during my freshman year of high school. Back in those dark ages we had these things called single records. Different from albums, with several songs on each side of the record, "singles" had just one song on each side.
The side the record producers believed was going to be the hit, and the one they promoted most strongly to radio stations, was the A-side of the record. The song on the opposite side then became the B-side.
Most B-side songs have long been forgotten but some became hits on their own right like Hound Dog by Elvis Presley, Revolution by the Beatles, We Will Rock You by Queen, and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day.
Don McLean wrote Vincent after sitting outside his home, flipping through the pages of a book about Van Gogh, and landing on a print of his painting, Starry Night. The song rose to number 12 in the United States and topped the charts in the United Kingdom.
Just so I don't sound like too much of an old fossil, I have to put in a side note. According to the movie Tupac, the Resurrection, Tupac Shakur was influenced by Don McLean, and his favorite song was Vincent. It’s not just us gray-haired people who are familiar with the song.
I say all that to explain my excitement in seeing Beyond Van Gogh.
I was surprised to learn there are two different immersive Van Gogh experiences traveling the country. Apparently, a similar exhibition was featured in the Netflix show, Emily in Paris, and that, at least in part, sparked the sudden explosion of these shows.
The Anaheim show Darling Daughter and I saw has appeared in Miami, Austin, Detroit and St. Louis, among others. The other circling the United States has shown in such cities as Chicago, New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
I have no idea the differences but, they're both Van Gogh, they’re both immersive, they both rely on projected images and video, so I have to think there's more than a passing similarity.
As you enter Beyond Van Gogh, you are greeted by framed images of text telling Van Gogh's story. Several different frames chronologically walk the viewer through the different stages of his life.
You learn he worked in anonymity, never able to sell his work. Without his brother’s financial support he would not have been able to survive.
Most everyone knows Van Gogh suffered psychologically, cutting off his own ear and ultimately committing suicide at age 37. At one point he voluntarily entered an asylum where, based on the view from his window, he created Starry Night, one of his most famous paintings.
Thousands of people have passed through the show at its various locations, only a fraction of them really knowing anything about Van Gogh. I was happy to see the story told, whether people took the time to read it or not, before entering the main room.
Beyond Van Gogh isn’t like walking into a painting. It’s more like becoming a real part of the painting. It is called an "immersive" experience after all.
The projected images run up, down and across the walls, washing over you onto the floor. Flowers and vines come to life, climbing down the walls, engulfing the previous image and creating a new one. At times images slowly dissolve into others, so slowly you don’t realize it’s happening unless you are keenly focused on the screens.
Images with Van Gogh’s own words remind you of his life, his thinking and his inspirations.
When Starry Night appears, you feel engulfed, as if Van Gogh has painted you into his creation.
The show includes more than 300 images and is a full hour in length. While there were a lot of people in attendance, I still did not feel crowded in. The tickets are timed so the number of visitors is limited. However, you are free to stay for as long as you wish.
Some might say the best way to see Van Gogh’s painting is in reality, in a museum. That may be true but these shows have introduced his art to people who would have never otherwise seen it. They’ve created an appreciation of his work among thousands of people and my hope is that more immersive experiences, with other artists, will follow.
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now
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