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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef

Starry, Starry Night – Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

Words by Penny Neef. Images by Timothy Norris. Courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Summer has arrived. Just like every summer here in Hampton Roads, it is hot, really hot. I look forward to summer every year, but I forget how hot it is every year. I want to go for a walk outside, but I have to go for that walk at 6:00 am. I want to go to the beach, but there had better be a big umbrella and some kind of breeze. Otherwise, you can catch me in my air conditioned sunroom, reading a book.

If you feel the same way about summer or just want an excellent experience out of the heat for awhile, I have just the ticket for you. Running now through September 2 is Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at Virginia Beach Convention Center, in partnership with Virginia Arts Festival.

You’ve probably heard of this multimedia, magical, multi-sensory show. It’s the first time it has appeared in Hampton Roads, and it is the perfect time of the year. It is indoors. The air conditioning is cranked to perfection in Exhibit Hall D of the Convention Center. What a fantastic way to get out of the sun and into the world of Vincent Van Gogh.

Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists of all time. In his short life, he was also one of the most prolific, creating over 2,100 works of art in the span of ten years. Many know him as the troubled artist, who was never famous, never rich, and who cut off his ear in a fit of mania. He was much more than that. Van Gogh was fluent in four languages. He studied the Impressionists and color theory in Paris. He was well-traveled and well-read. He was friends with some of the great artists of his time, like Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Pissarro. Many believe he was on the verge of success when he died. Van Gogh did have some form of mental illness. He lived in the second half of the 19th century, when there was little understanding and few resources.

Vincent Van Gogh painted hundreds of paintings. He wrote hundreds of letters to his brother, Theo, while he was painting and fighting his illness. These letters to Theo and other artists provide a unique record of a genius in the last years of his life. Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience attempts to put you right in the middle of that genius, but it is not the dark and troubled genius you might expect.

Van Gogh used vibrant color as his vocabulary. He dashed the paint onto the canvas, often finishing a painting in one day. He found joy and light in the natural world around him. Beyond Van Gogh uses his words and his art, moving and swirling around you in all directions. There is also some lovely music to accentuate the joy and beauty Van Gogh was able to find, even during his darkest times.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is so much more than a trip to a museum to look at paintings on the wall. You get a peek into the mind of a complex artist. You get a multimedia experience. You get to stand in the middle of color, light, movement and sound, and you get to do all of this in a lovely, cool, high-ceilinged room. My next visit to the beach might be to drop off the grandkids and the husband at the Boardwalk, and make my way back to the Virginia Beach Convention Center to experience the mind of Van Gogh all over again.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to

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