Jon Beinart’s role at Beinart Gallery is the culmination of a lifetime spent supporting artists and creating his own art. Starting out as an artist with a simple website to showcase his strange intricate paintings, drawings and Toddlerpillar doll sculptures, Jon grew that website into an artistic community, gaining a respectable global following. He built on this by publishing art books and curating group exhibitions in the United States before reassessing his pursuits and co-founding the Beinart Gallery with Corinne Leita in Melbourne, Australia.
Symbiosis (2020) - Oil on board by Jon Beinart, 30.5 x 30.5 cm (12" x 12")
An Artist's Beginnings
Jon was born in 1979 in Sydney, Australia, where his parents had migrated from South Africa. He was a shy and introverted child and spent much of his time preoccupied with imaginary worlds. He spent countless hours building cities for ants and snails with elaborate obstacle courses and making friends with daddy long-legs. He grew up primarily in Albury, and even as a child, he knew he wanted to be an artist: he practised drawing worlds populated by monkeys and monsters and was obsessed with strange art that wasn’t always age appropriate. He also had an affinity for horror movies, Monty Python and the comics of Robert Crumb.
In Jon’s late teens and early adulthood, his drawings continued to evolve, along with his interest in the unconscious. Inspired by the automatic drawings of the surrealists, he allowed imagery to unravel and develop organically on paper and enjoyed interpreting his drawings once they were completed. He discovered recurring themes in his works that related to fears and desires, but on the surface they resembled psychedelic Hieronymus Bosch-like scenes packed with absurd imagery that often made him laugh. Hybrid chimera-like creatures, pregnant women and babies frequently featured in his drawings and still appear in his work, decades later. He counts Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Salvador Dali and M. C. Escher among his influences.
The Garden of Umbilical Dreams (2017) - Ink on paper by Jon Beinart
Moving Home (2019) - Oil on board by Jon Beinart, 30 x 30 cm (11.8" x 11.8")
Jon stumbled upon his Toddlerpillar series by accident while messing around with plastic baby dolls. In 2002 he joined a few doll torsos together and noticed (to his delight) that they formed insect-like segments, and voilà, the infamous Toddlerpillar was born. Jon found his creations adorable and hilarious and was initially surprised when people were offended and even shocked by them. Over the years, as his Toddlerpillars have spread all over the Internet, they have elicited strong reactions and have even been the subject of hate mail. Some people have found them endearing and amusing, while others have assumed that they are addressing issues, such as radiation and genetic mutation, or the subversion of childhood innocence. While Jon has enjoyed interpreting the unconscious meaning behind his Toddlerpillars and has even mused about their natural habitat and an alternate world in which they may have evolved, he prefers to leave them open to interpretation so that viewers can make up their own stories.
Over the years, Jon’s Toddlerpillars evolved from small centipede- and scorpion-like creatures to complex hydra-like monstrosities with hundreds of doll torsos. The largest Toddlerpillar was significantly larger than the artist himself.
Toddlerpillar 2.0 - Plastic doll assemblage sculpture with apoxie sculpt and acrylic paint by Jon Beinart (2011)
Getting Out into the World
In Albury and then after he moved to Melbourne, Jon showed his work in small local shows. He did some illustration work for local bands, events and festivals and even painted a few small murals for local venues, but he found illustrating other people’s ideas painful, as he couldn’t separate himself from his work. Art had always been such a personal and intimate practise for Jon, so it seemed illustration wasn’t for him.
In 2002 he exhibited his first Toddlerpillar sculpture in a group exhibition at the Albury Regional Art Gallery called Boys Room. This was the first of a series that became his most widely known body of work: during this period his Toddlerpillars frequently went viral on the Internet (see more on this below). They were also published in a number of art books and magazines.
Left: Bubbapillar - Plastic doll assemblage (2002), Right: Irate Toddlerpillar - Plastic doll assemblage (2003)
In 2006 a Toddlerpillar was featured in Monsters, an exhibition at the Albury Regional Art Gallery. To Jon’s delight, it was displayed in a glass cabinet with an original etching by one of his artistic heroes, Goya. In 2011 the most complex Toddlerpillar sculpture was exhibited in Chet Zar’s Conjoined in 3D show at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, and later that year the same sculpture was shown in Cute & Creepy, an exhibition at the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee curated by Carrie Ann Baade.
While Jon’s profile had grown with the notoriety of his Toddlerpillars, images of them were frequently shared online with no credit, so most people who encountered Toddlerpillars had no idea who had created them. While this bothered Jon at the beginning, he gradually came to accept that his babies had grown up and left home and had taken on a life of their own. Jon created his last Toddlerpillar sculpture in 2011 and decided to move on and dedicate more time to drawing and painting.
Jon Beinart with the Mother of all Toddlerpillars (2009)
Venturing Online and the Beginnings of a Collective
In the early 2000s Jon created a simple website to promote his art online. He had a number of talented artist friends with no web presence who shared his love for surreal themes, so he invited them to be featured on his website in guest galleries. Over time, Jon began seeking out other inspiring like-minded artists to feature on his website. He found that like him, most of the artists he had encountered were alienated by the Australian art scene and institutions. Many had been told at art school that their works were “too illustrative” and that figurative art was no longer relevant. They were encouraged to explore a direction that was more abstract or conceptual. While this feedback was disheartening, these artists had all stayed true to their personal visions and continued making the art that they loved. As Jon continued to encounter and feature more artists on his website, he started to feel that he was a part of something bigger. He had finally found his people and many close friendships began to develop. He felt compelled to show the world that just below the surface of Australia’s contemporary art scene was a largely undiscovered resource of local talent. In 2003 he changed the central focus of his website from his own work to that of the entire group, and the Beinart Underground Australian Art Collective was born.
Over the following three years Jon curated group exhibitions in Melbourne featuring members of the Collective. Many of these were hosted in association with Angel Circus, a large community of Melbourne-based musicians, performers and artists. As the group’s art director and curator, Jon organised fortnightly exhibitions at Angel Circus events showcasing new works by members of Beinart Collective, and he also co-edited Angel Circus Magazine, which featured their artworks. These events grew in popularity, as did the exposure and membership of the Beinart Collective. Many of the artists featured on his website attended these events, which helped foster a strong sense of community.
There's Something in the Milk - Oil painting by Jon Beinart, 20 x 20 cm (2018)
The Collective Goes Global
As Jon continued expanding and promoting the Australian artist collective, he launched another website, the Surreal Art Forum, an online meeting place for artists around the globe. As social media sites were still in their infancy and there were no other online forums dedicated to surreal art, the forum grew fast and became very active. It also featured a page with hundreds of thumbnail links to living artists who Jon had discovered over the years. This page became particularly popular and attracted loads of new members to the forum and visitors to the Australian art collective website. This led to a surge of international submissions for the Collective, and after much deliberation, Jon decided to merge the collective with the forum. The Beinart International Surreal Art Collective was launched in 2006.
At its peak, the International Surreal Art Collective website had over 600 artist profiles with individual galleries and an active forum. It also featured a popular blog with artist interviews, articles and exhibition previews. It had become the primary online resource and meeting place for artists, fans and collectors with a shared passion for surreal and imaginative art.
Artists at Beinart Collective's Dystopia group show at Copro Gallery (2011)
As the Collective grew, so did the associated expenses. Jon decided it was time for a commercial venture, and he entered the world of publishing. While this move was partly intended to provide financial support for his passion project, he had developed a keen interest in publishing and felt that the movement needed to be documented in a way that was less ephemeral than the Internet.
Jon founded Beinart Publishing in 2007 with the release of Metamorphosis, a collection of works by 50 artists from the Collective. The book was immensely popular, leading to publication of Metamorphosis 2. Beinart Publishing went on to release a series of monographs which were also edited by Jon: The Extraordinary Drawings of Laurie Lipton (2010), Kris Kuksi: Divination and Delusion (2010) and Black Magick: The Art of Chet Zar (2012). The last two titles were also copyedited and co-written by Corinne Leita, who would later become joint owner and director of Beinart Gallery.
By the time Jon released Chet Zar’s monograph, most of the distributors and book shops which had held Beinart’s titles had gone out of business. This was caused by a myriad of factors, including the residual effects of the global financial crisis and the rise of Amazon. At this stage Jon decided not to continue to pursue publishing.
Alex Grey with Chet Zar's book (Beinart Publishing) and Chet Zar with Alex Grey's book.
Guest Curator in the USA
From 2010 to 2015, Jon guest curated a series of group exhibitions at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, CA. Jon had been admiring Copro Gallery’s artists and exhibition program for many years, so he was thrilled when owner Greg Escalante and director Gary Pressman reached out and invited him to bring the Collective to their space. The significance of this was enhanced by Escalante’s contribution to this movement as the co-founder of Juxtapoz Magazine and curator of many of the first museum shows for artists in the movement. Escalante, a personal hero and friend to Jon, died in 2017.
Curating the group exhibitions provided Jon the excuse to finally travel to the USA and meet many of the artists whom he had been corresponding with and promoting for years. He found that he had more in common with the artists than their shared passion for strange art and he experienced a powerful sense of belonging. The shared sense of purpose and camaraderie among the artists was inspiring and contagious. Jon came to feel as though he was part of a global community.
Jon also met countless people in Los Angeles who had followed Beinart since the beginning, which was a new experience, as the following in Melbourne was still very niche and underground at that stage. It was exciting to see that his projects had made a difference to so many people and that there was so much interest and enthusiasm for the art that he loved.
Jon Beinart and Corinne Leita at the opening of Dystopia at Copro Gallery (2011)
From Website Curator to Gallery Owner
By the end of 2012, Jon had scaled back his projects, as without the publishing arm, they had become financially unsustainable. He had recently become a father and had come to the painful realisation that he would need to get a “real” job to support his family, so he started studying psychology with the aim to one day practise as a clinical psychologist. The Collective was still very much alive in his heart, so as he studied, he continued working on the website and curating group shows at Copro Gallery and later Last Rites Gallery. But by 2015, the Collective had become a financial burden. He and Corinne decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising enough money to maintain the website, pay writers and curate exhibitions overseas for another five years. The response from the artists and fans of the Collective was staggering: the money was raised within 24 hours. This was due, in part, to the artists’ generous donations of original art and limited edition prints for campaign backers and also due to the Beinart Collective’s huge mailing list and social media following, which had grown organically over the years. As there were still 29 days left for the crowdfunding campaign, Jon and Corinne needed to come up with a stretch goal. Corinne proposed an idea that seemed an almost unattainable dream: to start a pop-up gallery in Melbourne featuring the kind of art to which the Collective was devoted.
By the end of the campaign they had raised enough money to open a gallery and pay a year’s rent in advance, and they opened Beinart Gallery in February 2016. The “pop-up” quickly became a permanent space: it has been running for almost 4 years! With the launch of the gallery, Jon stopped his psychology studies. He and Corinne run the gallery jointly, and while Jon has largely had more visibility in the art community because of his work with the Collective, the gallery would not exist without Corinne, both because it was her idea and because she is his equal partner in the running of it.
To Jon, his journey from a young introverted artist to founding a collective, publishing art books, curating international art shows and now running a gallery has been a surreal one. He feels extraordinarily grateful to have stumbled upon a career that is so aligned with his passion and sense of purpose. By opening a specialised art gallery in his own hometown, he has been able to support artists who, like the alienated artist of his youth, have found their own sense of community and acceptance within the art world.
Still an Artist
While Jon has found his dream career, which feels less like a job than a passion project, there is for him one major drawback: it has left him very little time to pursue his own art. Having only completed a small number of artworks since opening the gallery, he hopes to strike a balance over the next few years and carve out more time for his own art practise. In recent years he has gradually moved from drawing to painting with oils and is particularly interested in painting small, highly detailed works. His process involves more sketching and planning than he used in his early works, but his approach is still playful and intuitive. Watch this space and contact us if you would like to be notified when Jon creates new works for upcoming group exhibitions.
Return of The Toddlerpillars in 2021
In 2021 Jon decided to bring his Toddlerpillars back to life with the mass-birthing of their digital descendants on the Ethereum blockchain. He teamed up with his good friend of 15 years, Tim Molloy, who became the projects illustrator. Together, they created a generative PFP NFT project with over 888 unique and mind-bending traits. Their aim was to bring a sense of playful absurdity and comical horror to the space as well as a level of detail and complexity that was rarely seen in PFP projects.
The Toddlerpillars were an instant hit and an international community of like minds have congregated around their little friends, eagerly anticipating their launch in early November.
Learn more on the Toddlerpillars website.