Given Bristol’s famed relationship with art, it’s only fitting that when an art exhibition arrives in the West Country, it goes big. New arrival Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience does just that, with a dazzling display of Van Gogh‘s paintings all brought to life by hi-tech wizardry. We recently got the opportunity to pay a visit, and were delighted to find that the promises live up to the reality; the show is a spectacular immersion into Van Gogh’s life and art, with a show-stopping 360-degree projection room you’ll be seeing all over Instagram for the next few months.
Even before you reach the venue, you’ll get little hints that something special has arrived in the neighbourhood; a gorgeous Starry Night-inspired mural can be found outside Temple Meads station, and a paint art trail will lead you straight the front door. Both were created by talented local painter Farrah Fortnam, and they invite you onwards with an urgency to explore the full richness of Van Gogh’s works.
The venue for the show is music and culture hub Propyard Bristol, and they’ve got properly into the theme with another mural covering the entrance (again, it’s the work of Fortnam). Once you step through the doors, you’ll be greeted with a wall of sunflowers before entering the exhibition. Inside the first room, you’ll discover a mixture of recreations of Van Gogh’s famous works, and exciting projections that bring his art to life – we particularly enjoyed the vase of sunflowers bursting into bloom before our eyes! It’s the essential introduction to the painter’s career.
From there, you can actually wander inside a recreation of one of Van Gogh’s most iconic works: Bedroom in Arles. Van Gogh painted three versions of this work in his quest to endlessly refine his practice, and whilst the originals are split between Amsterdam, Chicago, and Paris, there’s an excellent substitute here in Bristol. It’s your first chance to literally step inside a Van Gogh painting, and aside from being a brilliant spot for selfies, it’s a place you’ll want to explore fully.
However, the undisputed star of the show lies a little further ahead in the exhibition. Pull back a nondescript curtain, and you’ll unveil a cavernous space dotted with deckchairs and benches – most likely filled with people sitting in a reverent silence. That’s because this spectacular room is surrounded by mesmerising, moving projections that bring the painter’s most famous works to life. Stars drift across a Starry Night, birds take flight in Wheatfield with Crows, and petals drop lazily from the tree in Almond Blossom.
It’s something you’ve just got to experience for yourself to truly appreciate, and it’s where we spent the bulk of our time. Just to sit back and watch these iconic compositions come to life and transform before your eyes engages every sense, and gives you a newfound appreciation for the work. The immersive room is where all that 360º digital projection tech is put to best use, and the results are, in a word, jaw-dropping.
If you can tear yourself away from the incredible projections, you’ll find yourself enjoying something a little low-tech, but equally fun: reproducing famous Van Gogh paintings with crayons! This part proved to be very popular with the little ones around the exhibition, and once you’ve unleashed your artistic freedom, you can pop your creation into the projector and see it displayed on the big screen. A big screen, I might add, that definitely improved the quality of my own work, childish use of colours and all…
Finally, there’s one last section to enjoy before you exit through the gift shop (don’t expect to leave there empty-handed, mind you). The exhibition has a VR exhibition that whisks you through the world of Van Gogh’s art. It’s free for VIP ticket holders, but anyone throwing covetous glances at those who’ve pre-booked can join the experience for a mere fiver. We took our first hesitant steps in VR here, as a narrated tour walks you through Arles, and past waypoints illustrated by Van Gogh’s famous paintings. It’s a whole exhibition contained in a ten-minute tour, and the ideal way to appreciate the full sweep of the painter’s career.
By this stage, with our knowledge of Vincent Van Gogh trebled, and our minds and phones full of indelible images from the immersive room, we made a beeline for Propyard’s bar for a little liquid refreshment. Kicking back with a draught beer on hand allowed us to reflect on the day we’d hand and the artistic wonders we’d seen. So, all things considered, if you’re considering heading along to Bristol’s Van Gogh exhibition, take it from us – this is a truly unmissable show!