When not seen surfing or heard strumming his guitar at Ditch Plains, Montauk in his free time, Tony Villar can be found performing at open mic sessions in Riverhead, Sag Harbor, and Springs. Vines & Hops Café in Riverhead, owned by Jeff McKay and his wife Christine, is also currently exhibiting Villar’s artwork throughout the summer featuring three of his sculptures. One is a 7-foot tiki chair, “Ominous Drifter” made of Montauk driftwood with LED enhanced eyes which can emit smoke through its nose, the other a tall curved “Mood” lamp made out of Montauk driftwood and leaded glass, and the third, a huge 3-dimensional tribute to Rick Griffin’s iconic surfing cartoon featuring “Murphy,” that Villar carved out of a cross-section of a large fallen tree, 3 ½ feet wide.
From surfer to artist to musician, Tony Villar has always been a creative guy. Villar attended the School of Visual Arts in New York in the late ’60’s. Although a carpenter by trade with an artistic craftsman style, his outside hobbies are where his passions lie. Having surfed Montauk for most of his life, Villar is now rediscovering his talent for both art and music. One event that combines his surfing and art is the annual “Rell Sunn Surf Contest and Benefit” for cancer at Ditch Plains, where Villar not only surfs in the contest, but has donated his artwork as well.
As an artist/carpenter, Villar’s favorite medium is wood and his chosen carving tool is a chainsaw. From his early tikis on the beach at Ditch Plains to his unique sculptures now shown at galleries and cafés on the East End, Villar’s style ranges from abstract to realism, each work meticulously detailed and usually very large. In 1999, he created a “true-to-life” palm tree, 20-feet tall, by carving the bark of a tree with ringed patterns and individually making fronds out of polyurethane plastic, with realistic coconuts made from sponge-like foam.
In 2009, his Marilyn Monroe sculpture seen surfing on his man-made wave earned him a Special Award in the Southampton Village July 4th Parade. Recently he made a reproduction of his dachshund, Clancy, out of foam, hand-painted down to the nails on his paws. His latest project is a 12-foot tall cylindrical “guard post” based on the domed garitas of El Morro Castle, a cultural symbol of Puerto Rico.
Villar’s most famous works are his 28-foot mural painted on the old “Salty Dog” in Uniondale, NY in the early ’70’s and his “House on Wheels” exhibited at the Nassau Coliseum, which drew the biggest crowds at the “Long Island Custom Van and 4-Wheel Drive Show” in 1979, winning a Special Award and later featured in “Surf” magazine.
Jeff McKay wanted something a little extraordinary to display along with his eclectic décor at Vines & Hops Café and when Villar’s sculptures were available, he jumped at the chance. They are now an integral part of the tapestry flowing with the cedar tree branches hanging from the ceiling. McKay exclaims, “People are blown away by the chainsaw carvings and love having their photos taken while sitting in the tiki chair by the lamp.” The 3-D surfer carving is the centerpiece of the room where guests enjoy appetizers and drinks while listening to live music, especially on Thursday open mic nights.
Villar sings and plays the guitar on open mic nights at the café. Known as “Tony V.” his expressive voice, fingerpicking style, and love of ’60’s music, including The Beach Boys, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Harry Chapin, and Cat Stevens make him a favorite each week. He regularly plays at Vines & Hops Café on Thursday nights, Sagtown Coffee on Saturdays, and Springs General Store on Sundays.
But the one place you can always find Tony Villar on weekends is at Ditch Plains, Montauk, where if he isn’t surfing, he’s relaxing under his modified beach umbrella, with its bamboo-supported canopy, playing his guitar as nearby driftwood inspires him for his next carving.