A popular Asian restaurant in Forest Hills is ablaze with local artistry

Photorealistic portrait of David Byrne, lead singer of new wave punk group Talking Heads. Oil on canvas, 3’x4’


Over in leafy Forest Hills, which has become home to a robust Asian population and recently praised for welcoming some of the finest and diverse Asian restaurants in Queens, one popular spot in particular – that the New York Times and other publications have raved about – is making news.

Spy C Cuisine, located at 72-06 Austin St., has done a great job connecting with — and tapping into — the great resources of the local community, thanks in part to their collaboration with longtime neighborhood real estate broker Rhona Magelowitz, who brought in Forest Hills-based, multimedia artist Hilary Mance, to create an eye-catching mural dedicated to the owners of the restaurant and their Chinese heritage. The work honors a prominent Chinese artist and was unveiled last Thursday at an intimate champagne and hors d’oeuvres event. 

“I’m so proud to host this event to celebrate my hood,” said Magelowitz (prior to the gathering), adding, “Hilary Mance is a dedicated, self-taught artist; I knew she would make magic at Spy C.”  

The broker, whose family has been rooted in the area (owning two buildings since 1930), noted that over the years, she has supported her neighbors and local artists, and strongly believes in both individuals and businesses.

In a recent interview, Mance talked about her massive Spy C project.

“The owners, Nancy and Lei (the chef), were great to work for,” said Mance. “They gave me the keys and I would let myself in at 11:30 pm after they closed and work through the night, for the past 5 weeks. They showed me photos of the art of Chinese master Wu Guanzhong and asked me to replicate his work on the walls, then trusted me to execute it without any preliminary sketches. 

“Images of his towns and landscapes had to be scaled from small photos to large walls. I had to just wing it as I went along, starting in front with spring and going through the seasons to winter in the back. It was a fun job, but the hours were murder. Every night, I’d be sitting on top of the ladder trying to figure out how to blend one of his paintings into another, asking myself: ‘What would Wu do?’ 

“The best part was that Lei would cook me dinner and leave it for me …his food is so good! I put him in the mural in two places,” she added.

The artist also wanted to share some interesting details about her past. “I was born to a beautiful, glamorous, completely crazy, talented, artist/interior designer mother, and a handsome, suave, fun, inventor/jack of all trades, father – both from the Bronx. They moved to Los Angeles to raise my brothers and I in the 60s but divorced when I was three. My father stayed in L.A. and my mother took us back to NY, remarried and raised us in Yonkers.”

Mance knew at a very young age that she was artistically inclined. “I’m self-taught in every area, including photorealistic portraits and nudes, abstract, impressionism, illustration, cartooning, freehand lettering, graphic design, logos, and beauty and special effects makeup,” she noted.

The NYC native has been enjoying a colorful and adventurous creative life, even moving to New Zealand, where she “just chills and paints” several months a year. But her career got jumpstarted in a weird way.

“At 15, I moved to L.A. to live with my father, and go to high school. My dad took a small apartment in Beverly Hills so I can go to a good school, though I hated it there,” she recalled. “I was the first person to ever graffiti Beverly Hills High School, as far as I know, sneaking through the bushes on prom night with my best friend, dressed in black, armed with spray paint. It made the local papers, but we never got caught. I moved back to NY right after high school.”

As a freelancer, Mance has been taking on myriad projects: creating commissioned paintings, murals, and replicas of the masters for hotels, offices, lobbies, restaurants and homes. All the while, doing makeup and hair for photo shoots, commercials, magazines, weddings, and films; and even a steady part-time gig doing make up in some of NYC’s most popular strip clubs, like the Hustler Club on the West Side Highway, where she’s worked for many years but had to give up her shift four years ago to move to New Zealand. When she returns to NY, she still works there occasionally.

“I started taking Polaroids in the dressing room of the girls getting ready, back in the 90s, at the TENS club …and still today at Hustler, using them as references for a series of oil paintings that I’ve been working on slowly, in between jobs and life,” she noted.

Although she loves doing murals, etc., like any artist, Mance said she prefers to do her own work. She started out painting photorealism in high school – mainly portraits and nudes. The paintings can be mistaken for photographs. 

“I believe my masterpiece is my painting of David Byrne [lead singer with Talking Heads], who I met during the filming of a documentary about the origins of punk,” she noted. “I did his hair and makeup for the interview, around 2003. It was my first attempt at a full color oil portrait.

“When he came over to see it, he was blown away. Over the years, he has been supportive, coming to my exhibits. The most recent one being last February at The Treehouse Gallery/performance space (Union Square). It is a magical portal of a space that serves as a safe haven for art and culture to thrive. My son Luca, a double bassist, is the curator.” The show, called ‘FLOAT,’ is currently being shown by appointment.

Mance started doing abstracts about 6 years ago, after her second husband died. “I had found out that the first three minutes of Beethoven’s Symphony 7, 2nd movement, are the vibrations for letting go. I was listening to it constantly,” she recalled. “One night, in my sleep, a voice told me to paint the visual equivalent. Without having anything in mind I painted to the music and worked on it for four months, using acrylic paints and mediums, oils, broken mirror, plaster, marijuana and my husband’s ashes. It’s called ‘Letting Go.’”

She added: “At first, it was very surreal and painful to be touching and sifting through his ashes but turned into an incredibly cathartic experience. Once I got over the weirdness and accepted that it wasn’t him, it was just his costume he wore to this party (where he partied a bit too hard), it became normal. To me at least. 

“I realized my calling is to do ash paintings for people and pets, which I get commissions for. Along with the painting, I provide therapy for the bereaved with my friend Ivanna Koshelya, a spiritual healer who educates clients on what to expect when you’re expiring – taking the fear out of death and preparing them for the journey, as well as helping the family to maintain connection with their loved ones after the passing.”

Visit HilaryMance.com, Facebook and Instagram or email her at Hilary.mance@gmail.com

 for more information.

To make an appt. to view her artwork and get more information on the concert series at The Treehouse, contact curator Luca Soul Rosenfeld at lucasoul211@gmail.com.

More from Around New York