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HOUSTON, TX – When you think of great artists, Anat Ronen’s name probably doesn’t come to mind. But if you live in Houston, you cannot help but be exposed to her larger-than-life work (even if you don’t realize it).

There’s the giant Big Red soda mural at Minute Maid Park, those 18-foot stars along the I-10 feeder road, the 40-foot high fruit on the front of Conroe’s Fiesta market and that sailboat in space you pass near NASA on your way to Galveston.

Funny thing, though, this talented urban artist never really painted until five years ago. Instead, she worked as secretary for a real estate investor.

Ronen came to the U.S. from Israel on a work visa, but she quickly tired of working for someone else. “I really wanted to break free and to be on my own,” she says. So she applied for a visa granted mainly to athletes and artists, based on artwork she had done for herself and friends. It was a last-ditch effort to keep her and her family in the country. Much to her own surprise, she got it!

“I was thrilled, but at the same time, I was freaking out because that was the first time I really needed to go out and be a professional artist,” she explains.

An ad on Craigslist led to a phone call that would change her life: a contractor was looking for an artist to paint a 90-foot long mural on the Galveston causeway. The painter he’d hired got stuck in Russia and couldn’t do it. Despite doubts about her own abilities, Anat took the job. “I said yes because I needed the money and because I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do it or not but let’s try. Worst case scenario, you just paint over it.”

Once she got started, it was obvious that wouldn’t be necessary. “I really learned I could do big stuff in a short amount of time.” That revelation has become a very marketable asset, leading to big projects around the city for various businesses and schools like Fondren Middle School and the recently closed Dodson Elementary, not to mention work around and outside the country. She even got hired to do a mural of Snow White and the seven dwarves at DisneyWorld! “It was kind of a dream come true because it’s Disney– like, oh my God!”

It took more than 35 years for Ronen to find freedom through her artwork, but she has no regrets, “A lot of people ask me, ‘Hey, wouldn’t you like to do it years ago? Wouldn’t you like to start when you were younger?’ and actually I think not, because the things I learned until I started doing it are really a part of who I am.” She is currently working toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

For more on Anat Ronen’s artwork , check out this month’s issue of Houstonia.