Last week, I came across this beautiful mural in Fresh Meadows, Queens at 188th and Horace. To my surprise, when I returned home later that evening, a photo of the mural was the #1 post on the New York City subreddit. In the span of an hour and a half, Rob Anderson transitioned from local artist to online darling. Over the phone, he tells me how he posted the picture on a whim while playing a board game at a friend’s apartment. When he checked his phone later that night, he was shocked to find it had amassed thousands of upvotes and his inbox was flooded with adoration.
Since the mural, titled Greetings from Queens, caught the attention of r/nyc, Anderson’s public art has continued to generate applause from that forum. “If you see something in a digital sense,” Anderson says, “it makes you want to go there.” In the past year, he has done several murals on 188th in Queens. While Anderson was responsible for the concept and execution of the outline, some of the coloring became a community event, as enthused spectators passed by and picked up a brush. Between painting sessions, some kids even tried to cover the mural in graffiti, leaving behind links to their social media accounts. Anderson reacted to this by seeking them out and offering them painting lessons.
“Greetings from Queens depicts the diversity of the borough,” Anderson says. “I wanted the alternating colors and variety of human figures to reflect that. That particular piece is a depiction of daily life, emphasizes the cooperation of different people, and shows the desire for people to want to open themselves up and work together.” He refers to his style as “modern pop art” which “depicts everyday life through a whimsical lens.” While some Reddit users speculated that he drew influence from Greetings Tour’s recent postcard murals, Anderson said he only discovered those after the post went viral. Rather, he was inspired by retro large-letter postcards popularized in the 1940s. Federal Investment Realty Trust commissioned the piece after seeing a painting Anderson had done in the window of a friend’s store.
When deciding on the content of the mural, a FRIT team member suggested a riff on the cover art for Springsteen’s Asbury Park, but inspired by Queens. This came naturally to Anderson, a lifelong resident of the borough. He attended Queens College, where he studied comparative literature, before dropping out in his third year to tour and make music with his band, Fall of the Albatross. He later worked as a salesman at a shoe store on the Upper East Side, eventually quitting last year to pursue art full-time. “It was very different than what I love to do, but the fact I got to interact with lots of people and be in a sales setting made me a well-rounded artist, because it was a very aesthetic job and an exercise in being positive.”
Eager to get started, Anderson did his first mural for the wall of a friend’s music studio. Afterward, he was invited to participate in Art Basel and local shows in Queens, worked with Wingman Magazine to paint a guitar for Billy Ray Cyrus, and decorated clothes for other actors, such as Spencer Grammer, Daphne Zuniga, Henry Simmons, Greg Sulkin, and BJ Britt. With his wild first year as a professional artist coming to a close, Anderson reflects for a moment before telling me, “Let the art flow, and everything will fall into place.”