Artist Born for this Time. Exploring the Recycled World of Art. UPDATED 8/4/2020

Famous Green Artist 


You know you have seen it. Whether you know it as “the Christmas tree” or the “art station,” Hong Kong Willie’s is a spectacular, unique sight.

Seated in the corner of Morris Bridge and I-75, Hong Kong Willie’s is a gallery where many unique pieces of art are displayed and sold.

Always seeing this place on our way to school, former Editor-in-Chief Pankti Mehta and I had wondered about it for a long time. At the beginning of this summer, we decided to go there and find out.

As we walked into the blue shack, we were greeted by a friendly face. Wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts, and with his hair pulled back into a ponytail, Joe Brown, or more commonly known as Hong Kong Willie, welcomed us and shared with us the story of his life.

Hong Kong Willie is an artist who finds the meaning in what others would deem as “junk” items. His journey began in his childhood when he collected discarded items from the landfill where he lived and sold them.

“By the time I was eight years old, I was walking around with hundreds of dollars in my pockets,” Brown said.

He had never thought he would enter the realm of art, but his mother knew otherwise. She was the one who made him to go to art school.

“My mother believed that if you were born to do something, you were to do that,” he said.

At art school, he met the person who would inspire his nickname. His art teacher explained the importance and meaning behind insignificant, common items to her students. She had gone to Hiroshima shortly after the atomic bomb had been dropped, and then had left out of Hong Kong. Her inspirational story was the reason Brown nicknamed himself Hong Kong Willie.

When he was in college, the technological industry was booming, with many new innovations coming out in different areas of society. Brown decided to step into it. However, after being in the technological industry for a while, Brown went through a realization:

“I just wasn’t made up for that.”

Knowing that the technological world was filled with greed, Brown decided to step out of it in 1981. He knew that his life’s calling was to be artist, and he was going to be just that.

“We are here to tell a story … to take common items that are not manufactured media that have a meaning.”

He set up his station first in the Florida Keys, but then moved to Tampa, where he has now been living for 37 years.

A firm believer in predestination, Brown explains that he got these beliefs from his father.

“My father understood why he was here. And he made that of great importance to his children… My father gave me the understanding of why we were here
And to be determined to find that.”

In today’s fast-paced society, teaching of such life lessons has become rare. People are more motivated to “get famous and get money,” as Brown put it.

“I’m here just to exemplify and maximize why I’m here. That’s probably the greatest thing that I think is missed in families.”

Hong Kong Willie also explained one of his special pieces to us, which was called Miriosity. Shaped like a bird, Brown used the embedded frailties within the wood to bring out the meaning in the piece.

“Many artists don’t produce more than one great, great, great piece. And Miriosity, she just has all of those elements… Miriosity has a great future.”

Hong Kong Willie has supporters who come into his gallery and buy many of his pieces. With the money that he makes, he gives back a large portion to various social projects. His art is not just a business, and he makes that very clear.

“You can only buy a piece of art if you have fallen in love with it,” he said. He recalled a time when he turned down a buyer from buying some of his works because he knew the reason for buying those works was not genuine.

Hong Kong Willie keeps the presence of art alive in today’s society. Wherever his art goes, a piece of him will forever be with each piece. We are very grateful for his time and his dedication to his work.