Moving to the small Western Sonoma County town of Occidental in 1999 - away from a hectic high-tech life in San Francisco, prompted a change in focus for Josef Szuecs. Instead of long days in front of a computer screen, he now creates functional art made from real-world reclaimed materials. As one may suspect, the change was not totally abrupt. Joe has always made time for creative endeavors. "After years of developing computer software, I felt a stronger need to create objects more connected with the physical world. I'm especially interested in things that change, and improve, over time. With the rapid pace of technological advance, I repeatedly watched my computer based work - even the creative applications, become obsolete and unusable. I found myself making things out of wood and scraps of metal in the garage at night."
Even during his tech days Joe worked at developing his esthetic skills by immersing himself in the world of art. He took after-hours art classes at local colleges, constantly visiting galleries and museums, earnestly reading books on the visual arts, befriending talented artists, and, of course, making art.
In 2004, a small retail space became available for rent in Occidental. Joe rented the space, interested in bringing art and products made from reclaimed and creatively re-used materials to the public. He offered work from local and national artisans, as well as his own. Renga Arts was born.
At the time, Joe made birdhouses. Looking mostly to modern art for inspiration, especially the box constructions of Joseph Cornell, the birdhouses quickly veered away from traditional expectations. "I decided to make every box structurally identical - the individual design sets each one apart. This reminded me of postwar neighborhoods, identical homes differentiated by the efforts of the owners. It was also important that the birdhouses work. That is, the dimensions and structure are conducive to occupation. Many birdhouse designs are completely useless, simply decorative. Nesting habitat is in decline, and I'd like to think my boxes helped a little."
It did not take long for his boxes to get noticed. He was asked to show his work at Half Moon Bay's Enso Gallery. Along with three exhibits at that venue, his birdhouses hung at San Francisco's trendy Universal Cafe for three months in 2002.
From that early success, he expanded his body of work to furniture and other forms of functional art. In 2006, he designed and built a line of furniture for the home accessories catalog Viva Terra.
Despite the small size of Renga Arts, it got the attention of the media. It has been featured in Sunset Magazine, Lonely Planet, North Bay Bohemian, Press Democrat, and numerous other periodicals. CNN also produced two segments on Joe and Renga Arts.
In 2006, Maker Faire came into being. A commingling of technology and arts, it was no surprise that Joe became involved. He's been a regular exhibitor over the years. Combining microcontrollers with found objects, he created the "New Music Boxes." Originally made in collaboration with East Bay artist, Laura Paulini, they enriched the exhibit experience by providing a supporting aural counterpoint to Ms. Paulini's abstract pattern based paintings. The New Music Boxes were a popular exhibit at both the Bay Area and New York Maker Faires.
Along with musician/artist Mauro ffortissimo, Joe combined robotics with a "prepared" piano to create an homage to John Cage for the 2009 Bay Area Maker Faire.
For the 2013 Maker Faire, he showcased a new series of sculptures made from old piano parts - continuing his theme of re-imagining the possibilities of the raw materials available in obsolete objects.
As well as exhibiting his work, Joe has shared the creative re-use process with youth by hosting hands-on exhibits at Maker Faire, the Sonoma County Faire, in classrooms and at his workshop. This activity was taken to the web when he hosted Maker Camp on Google+ in 2012 and 2013. In print, he wrote three DIY articles for Craft magazine.
Inspired by personal manufacturing technologies exhibited at Maker Faire, Joe began using computer controlled mills as part of his creative process. Ultimately, this led to the creation of a line of products made from old LP records. A cheap and plentiful resource, old records become birds, ants, letters, clocks, and other decorative and functional objects.
In 2010, Joe was approached by the noted junk artist Patrick Amiot to join forces at a new location for Renga Arts in Sebastopol. Opened in April 2011, the new space afforded Joe the opportunity to display more, and larger, works by local junk artists - as well as work closely with the gifted Amiot.
In 2013, Joe was asked to judge in the DIY category of the Core77 Design Awards.
Presently, Joe continues to produce art and products made from obsolete materials, both alone and in collaboration with other artists, that promote the appreciation of creating objects of beauty and value from material considered to be waste.