I have always been fond of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, especially the sunflower series. His many bright and distinctive paintings are full of a unique vibrancy and colour. When I heard that the touring exhibition, Van Gogh Alive, was coming to Bradford it seemed like the ideal opportunity to see if the exhibition would fulfil my expectations.
With Bradford being the UK City of Culture in 2025 the exhibition gives an expectation of what other cultural events the city can expect to host in the future. Located in the former St Mary’s Church, now Regency Hall, the exhibition is a feast for the eyes and ears and gives an insight into a troubled soul.
The Dutch artist moved to Paris and then the south of France where the quality of light gave him the inspiration for some of his best works before he admitted himself into the care of an asylum. Throughout his life he suffered from mental health issues, famously severing part of his own ear. According to the (disputed) official record, he shot himself aged 37 when he was halfway through writing a letter to his brother, Theo. He died in Theo’s arms two days later.
Van Gogh Alive
To make the exhibition come alive a technique called SENSORY4 is used. The system combines multichannel motion graphics, cinema-quality surround sound and up to 40 high-definition projectors to provide a spectacular multi-screen experience.
The visitor is invited to follow Van Gogh on a journey through the Netherlands then to France through Arles, Saint-Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise, where the artist created many of his masterpieces.
From the moment I entered Regency Hall a powerful and vibrant symphony of light, colour, sound and fragrance greeted me seemingly leaving the outside world behind as I immersed myself in Van Gogh’s paintings – an experience that was enchanting, entertaining and educational all at the same time.
I have seen his paintings in galleries across Europe but never in an environment such as the one currently in Bradford which brings a whole new perspective to Van Gogh’s work. Van Gogh Alive seems to redefine the way that you can engage with art and culture making it become more accessible and bringing pleasure to audiences young and old.
The exhibition blends over 3,000 high-definition images of his paintings such as Starry Night, Cafe Terrace at Night and of course the Sunflower paintings, onto huge screens with digital surround sound.
A feast for the senses
I found that the exhibition gave me a sense of Van Gogh’s thoughts and feelings as his works appeared to come alive in vivid detail. Many of my fellow visitors sat down in the many seated areas to linger amongst the sights and sounds of this sensual exhibition.
I particularly enjoyed the emotive classical score that seemed to reflect the emotional turbulence of Van Gogh’s life. The music includes pieces such as The Four Seasons (Vivaldi), Cello Suite No 1 in G Major (Bach) and Pizzicato (Delibes) amongst others which complemented this truly moving experience.
There is also a small gallery on the artist’s life and work including the opportunity to paint a picture yourself.
Being a fan of Van Gogh’s works I found the exhibition to be a valuable experience, though my partner who went along with me thought it all seemed like a big slide show, so there are contrasting views on the exhibition.
There is also a ‘Sunflower Selfie’ room, a long corridor with an abundance of fake sunflowers planted alongside as the mirrored walls provide an opportunity for a photograph. It might seem a bit tacky – it shouted out Instagram to me as soon as we entered the room. But yes, we did take a selfie!
Acknowledging the artist’s mental struggles, Van Gogh Alive is supporting Mind In Bradford – you can donate to the charity at various points as you walk through the exhibition.
I thoroughly enjoyed this stimulating and unforgettable experience. If you are a fan of Van Gogh’s paintings, or even a casual admirer, I think you will obtain a lot of pleasure from this fine retrospective of his work.
Van Gogh Alive – The Experience, Regency Hall, Bradford runs until 29 January 2023