Wednesday

Famous Florida Artist. + Updated 11/15/2017

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 Floridian.

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 Willie.
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.

THE IRONY OF IT ALL
 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.


BY SOHINI LAHIRI
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 overnight.
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 store.
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.

 




 FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE
S.L. GIMBEL FOUNDATION.
IN THIS EDITION OF "WEDU ARTS PLUS,Hongkongwillie





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 

By 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 near

I-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 family.”
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."