The Views of Writers & Journalist About Hongkongwillie

Hong Kong Willie is so much more than a roadside attraction.

Atlas Obscura



Hong Kong Willie's is a cacophony of art and reuse.
Hong Kong Willie’s is a cacophony of art and reuse. All photos by Eric Grundhauser
The domain of Hong Kong Willie
covers an odd corner just off of a busy Tampa, Florida, highway.
Nestled on a stretch of road largely populated by drab hotels, the
clutch of brightly colored shacks that make up Joe Brown’s artistic
empire stand out like a neon lighthouse of creativity.
Brown splits his time between his Tampa
outpost and the place where his heart truly seems to lie, Key West. In a
bright Hawaiian shirt and shorts that show arms and legs regularly
baked by the Florida sun, his look might accurately be described as
something like a modern island pirate.
Nearly every inch of space on Hong Kong
Willie’s lot is home to some piece of art, decorated piece of detritus,
or other found object. The walls are covered in old buoys, each node
painted with a unique design. Under an old chair lies a pile of clip-on
pagers. In the corner of the yard is a skeletal helicopter, covered with
string lights; next to that towers what looks like a colossal Christmas
tree made of those same lobster buoys. Even the asphalt driveway is
covered in splatters of bright paint, so that it looks better on Google
Earth, according to Brown. “Everything is precious,” he says, summing up
the ethos of reuse, reinvention, and imagination his unique roadside
attraction embodies.
All junk is precious.
All junk is precious.
If Hong Kong Willie, a moniker Brown
himself sometimes takes on, sounds like like the lovechild of an art
gallery and a seaside trash heap, that’s because it pretty much is.
Brown, who says he was “born an artist,” has been shaped by both
creativity and junk since an early age. Now in his 60s, Brown says his
father once donated a chunk of their family’s land to Hillsborough
County so that it could be used as a much-needed landfill, but was never
compensated or acknowledged for the gift. Still, Brown grew up
exploring the landfill, scavenging for treasures. Surrounded by what
most people consider junk, he developed a special appreciation for
things that get thrown away. “I was meant to paint on boards,” he says.
At the age of eight, Brown took an art
class where his teacher shared that she had spent a lot of time
volunteering in Hiroshima. Learning that there was a strong local
tradition in Hiroshima of turning tossed off items into art, this too
had an impact on Brown. This same teacher later told him that she had
left Asia out of Hong Kong, and this little factoid apparently led to
his adoption of the name Hong Kong Willie. She also passed on a passion
for art. Brown would eventually start a career in the technology
industry, but since then he’s returned to his artistic roots.
Hong Kong Willie's main shack.
Hong Kong Willie’s main shack.
Perched on top of one of the small
structures on Brown’s land are large, reused letters that say “art
station,” but this place really couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.
When Brown first established the Hong Kong Willie site, he says there
was a collective of five artists working on the project, but now the
living gallery is run and supplied only by him and his wife, Kim. Inside
the art station, the space is bursting. One of Hong Kong Willie’s
signature items are rugged pieces of locally sourced scrap wood and
boards that Kim adorns with colorful painted works. There are birds,
beach scenes, abstract shapes, and other designs that look unmistakably
In addition to the boards, the space is
littered with a variety of creations, including painted burlap sacks,
trinkets made of shells, shaped glass bottles, and old shoes tacked to
the walls. The concept that every object or piece of media is of value,
and can be recycled into art, is the driving force behind Hong Kong
Every inch of the site has some hand-made touch and flourish.
Every inch of the site has some hand-made touch and flourish.
Nearly everything at Hong Kong Willie’s
is also for sale, from random pieces of coral to the lushly decorated
boards that cover the walls. Old Coke bottles filled with sand and
shells, with “Beach-front Property, Tampa, Florida” written on them, go
for $4.95. The lines between kitsch, whimsy, commerce, and
environmentalism bleed together here. Brown says that pieces of Hong
Kong Willie art have sold for $175,000 or more. One item , painted by Kim, is listed for $98,000.
Brown says they give most of that kind of money to charity, keeping the lights on by selling “Red Wiggler” worms for use in composting or as fishing bait.
One day, Brown says, he’ll close up shop
and head to Key West for good. Until then, Hong Kong Willie stands as a
beacon of reckless creativity and appreciation for the treasures most
people just throw away.


 Hong Kong Willie Art ,Blue Marlin Dream of Key West. $225,000 To Inquire  about Hongkongwillie Art Call  Hongkongwillie






My Father was a generous man . Hillsborough County  was in need for a dump. They showed  him studies that DUMPS(they called SANITARY  LANDFILL) WERE SAFE. HE DONATED THE LAND FOR THAT USE. NEVER RECEIVED ONE CENT OF COMPENSATION,AND DID THIS AS A PUBLIC SERVICE.

  It,(was the dump) that had all this media, and a young enterprising mind. Not enough time to capture it all.


Growing up in Tampa, I spent a period of time fascinated by a quirky,
eye-catching landmark at Fletcher Avenue and Interstate 75. This was
also the period of time I spent obsessed with making binoculars out of
toilet paper rolls and necklaces out of pop tops. To me, this sight was
the epitome of similar creative craziness, and I often found myself
looking for it during car journeys, hoping it hadn’t disappeared

But time passes and so does the urge for pop-top necklaces, and
observant eyes don’t notice the same sights. It wasn’t until recently
that I once again took note of the scene, with its broken down orange
helicopter, a tree made of what seems to be indestructible balloons and a
blue-and-white house covered with trash remade into art.

It’s the home of Famous Artist Hong Kong Willie.
I finally paid a visit to this art gallery after many years of
wondering about the story behind it. The pavement leading to the door is
painted with handprints and splatters, the store edged with upside down
Coke bottles. Streams of lobster buoys hang from the roof and also make
up the “tree” I marveled at so often from my car window.

Various shoes, bottles, clocks and signs are glued to the side of the
store, and there’s a tribute to Sept. 11 off to the side. No one seemed
to be home, so I called the number on the “WE’RE OPEN” sign, which
brought a middle-aged man in a bright Hawaiian shirt from behind the

After a few basic questions, Joe Brown begins to open up about the history surrounding his art.
Brown, better known as Hong Kong Willie, says he was an artist from the
start. “Everyone is born an artist,” he said. “However some are granted
the gift of being able to express that art.”

As a young boy, his mother decided to send him to art school, which he says changed the course of his life forever.
At the age of 8, Brown recalls being heavily influenced by the lessons,
which included transforming a Gerber baby bottle, something with no
real value, into a piece of art. His teacher had spent an enormous
amount of time and effort in Hiroshima, Japan, helping those affected by
the atomic bombs. Brown learned many lessons about recycling from this
teacher, who had come from Hong Kong. Brown added an American name,
Willie, to Hong Kong for his nickname Hong Kong Willie.

While Brown grew up to be an artist, he left the world of mainstream art to return to his background in technology.
“But on Nov. 13th, 1981 … on a Friday at 1:30 in the afternoon, I had
an epiphany,” Brown says. “I was at a friend’s house right across the
street,” pausing to point at a row of apartments across from his store,
“and a series of events led me to rejoin the art world.”

With the help of two other artists, Brown set up his business in the
Florida Keys in the early 1980s, then moved it to Tampa. Together, they
believed that they were predestined for the Green Movement, and have
been making art out of recyclables for close to 30 years.

How’s business? He smiles. “It’s pretty wild.”
Inside, Hong Kong Willie’s art includes glossy pieces of driftwood
restored and painted with beautiful landscapes and kernels of truth,
some of the gorgeous work priced in the six figures. But there’s also a
wide collection of handmade bags, wooden sculptures and sassy bracelets
for more moderate prices.

A portion of the proceeds go to benefit the Green Movement, Brown says.
With a laid-back swagger, Brown continues. “We live pretty minimally.
And all the funds we get from donations and our art sales are delegated
to green projects.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I decided to visit Hong Kong
Willie. Certainly not the breathtaking art inside, and definitely not
the history behind it. I’m feeling thick-headed for not visiting years
ago, and say so.

Brown offers a last bit of insight:
“I’m a big believer in predestination and timing. If someone is not
ready to view art, the door is closed. Every piece of art that is made,
and every project we do is done for a reason. It doesn’t matter if that
reason shows up the next day, or walks in six years later; every piece
of art will find a home.”

Watching the Paint ,a Great exploding of Colors from the truck hit the pit. What a memory. Was this the beginnings of Green for i.






MY FOX TAMPA BAY, Famous Florida Artist,Tampa Art Galleries Fletcher and 75


 16For God so
loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

New Tampa Patch 

Tristram DeRoma 

The Story Behind the Eye-Catching Art at I-75 Exit 266 Tampa Florida

Famous Florida Artist Joe Brown, better known as “Hong Kong Willie,” makes art with a message at his home/studio nearI-75 Exit 266 Tampa Florida

Sometimes, it’s the smallest experiences that have the biggest impact on a person’s life.
While attending an art class in 1958 at the age of 8, Tampa folk artist Joe Brown recalled being mesmerized by the lesson. It involved
transforming a Gerber baby bottle into a piece of art.

“The Gerber bottle had no intrinsic value at all,” he said. “But when
(the instructor) got through with me that day, she made me see how
something so (valueless) can be valuable.”

By the time class was over, Brown learned many other lessons, too,
such as the importance of volunteerism, recycling, reuse and giving back
to the community. He recalled being impressed by the teacher’s
volunteer work in Hiroshima, Japan, helping atomic bomb survivors.

“One of the last words she ever spoke to me about that was, ‘When I
left, I left out of Hong Kong,’ ” he said. After turning that over in
his young brain for awhile, he decided to use it in a nickname, adding
the name “Willie” a year later.

You’ve probably seen Hong Kong Willie’s eye-catching
home/gallery/studio at Fletcher Avenue and Interstate 75. But what is
the story of the man behind all those buoys and discarded objects turned
into art?

Brown practiced his creative skills through his younger years. But as
an adult, he managed to amass a small fortune working in the materials
management industry. By the the ’80s, he left the business world and
decided to concentrate on his art. He spent some years in the Florida
Keys honing his craft and building his reputation as a folk artist. He
also bought some land in Tampa near Morris Bridge Road and Fletcher
Avenue where he and his family still call home.

Brown purchased the land just after the entrances and exits to I-75
were built. He said he was once offered more than $1 million for the
land by a restaurant. He turned it down, he said, preferring instead to
make part of the property into a studio and gallery for the creations he
and his family put together.

And all of it is made of what most people would consider “trash.”
Pieces of driftwood, burlap bags, doll heads, rope — anything that comes
Brown’s way becomes part of his vocabulary of expression, and, in turn,
becomes something else, which makes a tour of his property somewhat of a
visual adventure. What at first seems like a random menagerie of glass,
driftwood and pottery suddenly comes together in one’s brain to form
something completely different. One moment nothing, the next a powerful
statement about 9/11.

One Man’s Trash …
Trash? There is no such thing, Brown seems to say through his art.
He keeps a blog about his art at hongkongwillie.blogspot.com. He also sells his creations through the Website Etsy.com.
In his shop, he has fashioned many smaller items out of driftwood,
burlap bags and other materials into signs, purses, totes, bird feeder
hangars and yard sculptures.

He sells a lot to the regular influx of University of South Florida
parents and students every year who are are at first intrigued by the
“buoy tree” and the odd-looking building they see as they take Exit 266
off I-75.

Brown Sells More Than Art
Of course, the real locals know Brown’s place for the quality of his worms.
If there’s one thing that Brown knows does well in the ground, it’s
the Florida redworm, something he enthusiastically promotes, selling the
indigenous species to customers for use in their compost piles. Some of
his customers say his worms are just as good at the end of a fishing
hook, though.

“To be honest, what made me come here is that they had scriptures on
the top of his bait cans,” said customer John Brin. “Plus, they have
good service. They’re nice and they’re kind, and they treat you like

Though Brin knows Brown sells them mostly for composting, he said
they are great for catching blue gill, sand perch and other local
favorites. He also added that he likes getting his worms from Brown
“because his bait stays alive longer than any other baits I’ve used.”

For prices and amounts, he has another blog dedicated just to worms.
Of course, many people also stop by to buy the smaller pieces of art
that he and his family create: purses made of burlap, welcome signs made
of driftwood, planters and other items lining the walls of his store.

He’s also helped put his mark on the decor of local establishments too, such as Gaspar’s Patio, 8448 N. 56th st.
Owner Jimmy Ciaccio said that when it came time to redecorate the
restaurant several years ago, there was only one person to call for the
assignment, and that was his good friend Brown.

“I’ve known Joe all my life, and we always had a good chemistry
together,” Ciaccio said. “He’s very creative and fun to be around, and
that’s how it all came about.”

Ciaccio says he still gets compliments all the time for the
restaurant’s atmosphere he created using the “trash” supplied by Brown.
He describes the style as a day at the beach, like a visit to Old Key
West. “They’re so inspired, they want to decorate their own homes this
way,” he said.

It’s that kind of testimony that makes Brown feel good, knowing that
others, too, are inspired to create instead of throw away when they see
his work. He simply lets his work speak for itself.

“Somebody once told me to keep telling the story and they will keep coming,” he said, “and they always do.”



About Hong Kong Willie

Artist Born for this time, Lived on a landfill as a child. Reuse Became the way of life. To read the story from the inception of the Name Hong Kong Willie. Famed, by the humble statements from the Key West Citizen, viable art from reuse has found its time. To Live a life in the art world and be so blessed to make a social impact. Artists are to give back, talent is to tell a story, to make change. Reuse is a life experience. Hong Kong Willie Art Gallery In Tampa, a reuse Art Gallery. Artist Kim,Derek,and Joseph. reuse artist that have lived the life and are meant for the green movement in the world. A gallery that was born for this time. Artist living a freegan life,art that makes a social statement of reuse. Media that has a profound effect in making the word green truly a movement of reuse in the world today and the future.
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