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I was recently introduced to Jon Beinart’s fantastical world, and am fully taken by his artwork and the surreal art ‘colony’ he has developed since 2003. He is a creator of intricate drawings and Toddlerpede sculptures, as well as an accomplished book publisher – including the first monographs for renowned artists such as Kris Kuksi, Laurie Lipton and Chet Zar.

His latest endeavour, however, is all-encompassing. Twelve years after founding the community, the beinArt Surreal Art Collective is a well-oiled network of skilled figurative artists. Although run from Melbourne, Australia, its membership spans continents. But perhaps Jon’s biggest feat is yet to come: creating a real-life hub focusing solely on strange and imaginative art.

The beinArt Kickstarter campaign was launched in November to ensure the Collective continues indefinitely, and has been a success so far. They reached their initial goal in just over 24 hours, which will cover the next phase of the Collective’s projects. This includes three massive group shows, five years of online expenses, and a whopping sixty exclusive artist interviews. The first of these shows has already been confirmed for Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, on February 20th next year.

From now until December 12 they hope to raise enough funds from their Kickstarter campaign to create a new gallery space in the heart of Melbourne. If they reach this new goal, a beinArt Collective Gallery and Shop will be opened in the city and their first year of rent will be covered. Naturally, Jon is incredibly passionate about this community of like-minded artists, both local and international. Together with his extensive experience in curating, management, promotion and sales, the gallery could well become a home for both established international artists and emerging local talent.

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One of Jon Beinart’s fantastical Toddlerpedes

Although beinArt’s plans are lofty, the Collective’s beginnings were rather organic, says Jon. After featuring a number of guest artists on his personal website, he decided to call it a collective – especially since their figurative work and surreal themes matched his own. “At first it was the Underground Australian Art Collective,” he told Hypocrite Design Magazine, “and then, years later I started inviting and accepting submissions from international artists.” Fast forward a few years and this pioneer of online art collectives now features over 200 artists that strongly reflect Jon’s curating abilities and aesthetic.

He recently shared his experience in curation with Carrie Ann Baade, an artist who’s part of the beinArt Collective.

I love curating shows as I get to hang out with the artists and art lovers. As I mentioned before, I’m fairly isolated in Australia. I’m so far away from most of the artists, fans and galleries in this movement, so curating group shows and meeting others who share my passion for this work is always a huge thrill!

Jon sees one of the roles of art in the 21st century as providing visual commentary on what it’s like to be human in this day and age. Through the beinArt Collective, he sees a wonderfully diverse group of people who, although bound together by similar aesthetic tastes, are motivated to create based on incredibly complex factors – from beauty and nature, to society, our impact on the environment, and so much more. This is why generalisations about ‘popular’ styles should never be made, he says, each story is different, unique, and captivating in its own way.

The beinArt Surreal Art Collective hopes to reach their goal of crowdfunding for a brick-and-mortar gallery by December 12. If you’d like to pledge your support to keep the beinArt Collective thriving, or would like to see how the campaign is faring, simply pop by their Kickstarter page.

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Mothers by Nicola Verlato

I was privileged to chat with Jon over the last couple of weeks, and he shares some fascinating things about his vision for the beinArt Collective, and his personal journey through art in the interview below.

Why did you decide to start the beinArt Collective, and in which ways has it grown and evolved since its inception in 2003?

Well, originally, I had no idea that it would become a Collective at all. The entire project had much humbler beginnings. In 2003 I had a small website which I used to promote my own work. I was living in Melbourne and had a few very talented friends who, like me, had an obsession with creating bizarre imagery and felt on the outer of the contemporary Australian art scene. I wanted to get their work online too and decided to include them on my site. From there I began searching for other Australian artists like us and sure enough, they began to emerge from the woodwork and I retitled my website, the “Underground Australian Art Collective” and that it what it truly become. It was no longer just me but a community and I grew more and more inspired to show the world the amazing talent and vision of artists in Australia.

Over the next couple of years the site grew in popularity and I received more and more submissions from international artists. Seeing the movement on an international scale was incredibly heartening, so in 2006 I relaunched the site as the “beinArt International Surreal Art Collective”. The amount of featured artists and online traffic exploded rapidly and maintaining the website became a huge task. I quickly realised that in order to make it financially sustainable that the collective needed a lifeline. I started publishing art books as a means to make my project more financially sustainable and during 2007-2012 beinArt Publishing successfully published five titles.

In 2010, under the beinArt banner, I curated my first group art exhibition in the United States at Copro Gallery in Santa Monica. Since then, I have curated exhibitions for the Collective on both coasts of the US and will be curating my fifth show at Copro Gallery in February, 2016.

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Alignment by Ben Howe

What are some of the challenges you faced in keeping the Collective alive, especially in recent years? Please also tell us why this Kickstarter campaign is so vital to the Collective’s new chapter.

The beinArt Collective has always been very community focused in it’s mission to provide an equitable online platform for emerging and established artists alike. We have never asked the artists in the Collective for financial contributions and have covered all costs ourselves. We recognise that not all artists, no matter how talented, imaginative or renowned, will make a living from their work, let alone have enough financial reserves to pay for advertising or promotion. It was the income from the books kept us going… for awhile. Like many industries, publishing was severely impacted by the 2008 global financial crash. Even large chain bookstores were closing worldwide so of course independent stores suffered greatly. This then impacted on distributors and finally, publishers. As we refused to compromise on the quality of our publications for a wider profit margin, we had to accept that to continue would be financially unsustainable. After 2012, my wife and I worked for free, keeping the Collective going on our own but the reality of it is that costs build up. Which is why we made the decision to run the Kickstarter campaign. I could not bear the thought of having to terminate this project, something I had poured my heart and soul into for over a decade, without giving this a shot.

I reached out to our community and incredibly, in around 24 hours the Kickstarter received enough funds to keep the Collective alive. The show of support from this international community of strange art lovers was phenomenal! I felt so moved by the whole experience. Now there is a potential to open a gallery and shop for the art collective, which would be like a dream come true! I feel like this crowdfunding campaign has not only saved the collective, which is so dear to me, but it may even take us to a whole new level!

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Born Bad by Christian Rex van Minnen

Please share a bit about some of the artists in the collective. Who will be part of your upcoming group shows, who are making waves in their home towns and abroad, and how is the Collective involved in promoting and finding opportunities for these creatives?

There are over 55 artists participating in the upcoming show and it is difficult to know where to start as I am excited about them all! I am thrilled that Greg “Craola” Simpkins, Martin Wittfooth, Travis Louie, David Stoupakis, Josh Keyes, Esao Andrews, Jana Brike, Casey Weldon, Chris Mars, Chet Zar and so, so many more will be participating! I’d encourage anyone interested to check out the entire line up as they all are truly individual and exceptional. And, I’ve always believed in the power of numbers and that by promoting the group as a whole, everyone benefits… especially the emerging artists who make up a large portion of the collective. The artists in the show are invited based on the quality of their work rather than the size of their fan bases. So if there are any names in our line up that you don’t recognise, I strongly suggest you look them up!

In regards to work that the artists are doing, I think you will find the range of responses quite extraordinary. In addition to their own art, many are involved in film, animation, community projects, consultancy, academia, advocacy, digital media and design and more. A few have opened their own galleries, too. Networking is a big part of what the Collective offers and many of the artists have been recommended for other projects via our community. And of course, I am always happy to promote projects that the artists are involved in through all of our channels!

You have some fascinating tastes in art. How do you find new and emerging artists that work well with your vision and aesthetics? And for those who are interested in joining the beinArt community, is there an application process? How are they selected?

We have always invited people to submit their work via our website. Generally when people get in touch they either link to their online portfolio or attach a few examples of their work to an email. And I have met some incredible artists in this way. I also follow a large number of galleries who specialise in this kind of work, but, the majority of artists have been found via social media. I try to keep the amount of featured artists to a manageable number and I only accept submissions that I find to be exceptional in technique and vision – but please note that this is entirely subjective!

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Good Knight by Greg Craola Simkins

What moves you to create you own pieces? Where do you draw inspiration from, and who or what are some of your influences?

It’s difficult to pinpoint the influences behind my own work because they are multifaceted and largely unconscious. If I was to take a stab at it, I would definitely include Tom Waits as an influence. I have always had a morbid curiosity and been particularly intrigued by stories and imagery from the Victorian carnival era, I also love a lot of dark religious imagery, such as the hellish imagery of Hieronemous Bosch and illusionistic art, like that of MC Escher, Salvador Dali and Guisseppi Archemboldo. As for more modern influences, I grew up on a diet of horror movies and devoured works by underground comic figures like Robert Crumb. What moves me to create? This is impossible to describe. I don’t know what it is but it has always been there since a very young age. I am happiest when I’m being creative and neglecting that desire always gets me down.

What are your plans for 2016 and beyond, both personally and for the beinArt Collective?

2016 is going to begin with the Collective group show at Copro Gallery. On the website, we will continue to publish exclusive interviews with the artists of the Collective. We have a number of talented and experienced writers and for the first time, are going to be translators to do some really exciting interviews with some of our international artists. And, of course, if we reach the Kickstarter stretch goal, we will open our gallery in Melbourne!

Personally, I have some art of my own that I would like to get into. I have one particularly large drawing that is so close to being complete!

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Die Wilde Jagd by Redd Walitzki

With so many facets to juggle – the Collective, your own art, publishing, shows – how do you find time to do the things you love, to spend time with family, and to take in all the wonders of the world?

I have to admit that I’m not so good at juggling all of these things, and tend to get overly focused on one thing at a time. I get incredibly focused and have been known to work on projects through day and night! I have been working on this Kickstarter campaign nearly every day for over a month. Stepping away from technology and refocusing always helps give me perspective. A few weeks after the campaign finishes, I will be going to a small town near Byron Bay to spend some quality, technology-free time with my beautiful family. After all, this is what really matters.

Tell us a bit about the new website. What are some of the highlights we can look forward to, how will it be structured, how will it facilitate and further the beinArt Collective?

Well the website won’t be new as such. There will not be any major redesigns or anything like that. We are looking at boosting the content. Like I mentioned earlier, more artist interviews and a renewed focus on the truly international nature of the Collective. And, should we reach our target and open the gallery, I imagine that would become one of the central focuses of the site as we would be listing all of the available work online for our international audience.

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A Perfect Vacuum by Jeremy Geddes

What kind of legacy would you like to leave Melbourne and the rest of the world through this artist community?

I am still incredibly passionate about helping to facilitate a larger awareness of and appreciation for strange and imaginative figurative art. I strongly believe that times are changing and that respect for and fascination with this work will continue to grow over the next decade or so. I hope that my projects inspire other artists to continue producing this kind of work, even though there are significant challenges and biases against figurative art within the art world.

In Melbourne, we sometimes feel a sense of isolation. The major galleries that the artists of the Collective show in are in Europe and the United States but there is a growing market here and we have always had an incredible pool of local talent. I might be biased but I believe Melbourne is one of the most diverse and culturally exciting cities in the world. We have a thriving arts scene but a lack of galleries open to showing this kind of work. I would love to be a part of changing that!

The beinArt Surreal Art Collective’s Kickstarter campaign only has a few more days to reach its stretch goal! If Jon’s passionate and inspiring vision excites you, be sure to show your support.

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Gardener and The Centre of The Universe by Jana Brike

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Foodface by Scott Brooks

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Wunderkammer by Santiago Caruso

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Gynoid by Peter Gric

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Marco Mazzoni

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Triumph and Capricorn Rising by Kris Kuksi

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Fatigue 2 by John Brosio

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Praying Mantis by Jaroslaw Kukowski

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Silkworm by Heidi Taillefer

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Dies Irae by Dino Valls

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Ozezos by David Stoupakis

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I Do by Chris Peters

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Softspot by Chet Zar

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Bright Eyes by Casey Weldon

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