Even if you’ve never heard Anat Ronen’s name before, chances are you’ve seen her work around town. The self-taught artist originally from Israel has spent over a decade beautifying the city with her murals, street art and public installations, like the 250-foot-long compilation of selfies painted onto the exterior of Blackshear Elementary School in Houston’s Third Ward or the public art installation honoring essential workers at the Jack C. Alexander Plaza in Discovery Green.
Q: What do you love about Houston?
A: I love that it’s naturally diverse. Everybody comes here and is welcome here and that’s how we felt when we first came to Houston. That’s the main thing I like about Houston. I also like that it’s a very down to earth working city. It’s not a tourist city, it’s not a for show city. People come here to live and work. I’m not a very fancy person so for me, that definitely makes me feel at home. You can be anybody and anything and everybody’s welcome.
Q: What are some of your favorite spots around town?
A: Home. I’m an introvert so I don’t go out much. I love that there are some nature spots in the city. As a nature enthusiast, I like that even in the most concrete centered place in Houston, there’s still some nature. I see it because I work all over the city and sometimes I notice birds and animals and other stuff that is breaking through the concrete jungle. Every place that has nature has my vote.
Q: What are the first words that come to mind when you think of Houston?
A: Heat, concrete and diversity.
Q: What are the first words that come to mind when you think of Texas?
A: The cliche is large. The sky, crazy people but in a good way.
Q: When did you first move to Houston and what brought you to the city?
A: We moved in 2007 after arriving to the U.S. a year earlier and trying two different other places. Houston was sort of a last try and it worked and I think that’s why I’m so grateful for living here. We’re very simple people. We kind of fly low. We live within our means and that meant we didn’t want to go to places like California or New York or places that cost a lot of money just to live and so here we were able to really live as we like to live. We chose specifically Houston because of the size which means opportunity and because of the weather, believe it or not. We spent one winter in the north and that was one winter too many. I don’t mind sweating my brains out but not freezing in the winter. We deliberately chose Houston over other places and we don’t regret it.
Q: What Houston places do you recommend to friends and visitors?
A: Probably the art museums. I love downtown, the feel of it. It’s like a mini New York. I love that you can still feel some kind of history there because elsewhere, it’s all over the place. The parks, the nature preserves and of course, the food, it’s up to everyone’s own taste but there’s plenty to choose from and that’s great.
Q: For those that aren’t familiar with your work, could you describe what you do?
A: I do everything, everything with paint. I mainly do large scale murals. I also do live art events like festivals, whether it be sidewalk chalk festivals or mural festivals. I travel some of my time but mostly I work here in the Houston area. Whatever it takes to pay the bills and be out there. I think, because my work is pretty diverse in terms of different mediums and places that I can work in, I’m versatile enough to provide for my family. I think one of the main questions, especially now, is how to make it work when you know art is not a necessity, not something people need to survive, so how do artists make it work or survive this time that we’re in. Being versatile and diverse through doing several different things really allows me to survive these times and any time really.
Q: You mention that you got into art professionally in your late 30′s. What instigated your transition to art?
A: All my life, I knew that I had something in me but honestly, I never thought it was good enough for people to pay me for what I do. Wherever I worked and wherever I was, I did a little bit of this and a little bit of that for family and friends but again, it was never going to be anything else because I didn’t go to school. I thought if I didn’t start early enough, and did everything an artist does, there’s no way I can catch up later. Only when we came here, after two years of being here under a business visa and I worked for my employer that was a real estate investor, I needed to break free from that bond of working under somebody else. Visas are very limiting and at any given moment the employer or sponsor can tell you ‘Hey, you know what? I don’t need you anymore,’ and if they don’t need you anymore, it’s really hard to find another sponsor just to keep on living where you live, so you have to go back to your country. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that at any given moment, my sponsor can tell me ‘I don’t need you anymore.’ So, we basically decided to gamble and apply for an O1 visa, which is a visa that’s given to people with extraordinary abilities. Not that I thought that I had them in me, but it was the only option that we had and I was lucky enough to be granted with the visa. From there on, I started doing art professionally and I couldn’t do anything else. When you get a visa, you have to work exactly in what you were given the visa for and my husband couldn’t work anymore, so it was all on me both to make a living and to think about the next step, which was a green card. It had to basically squeeze the best out of me or else I would be sent back home. I think that particular place that there was no other option really can do wonders.
The biggest thing that I gained through all this is understanding who I am because I had no idea. I had no idea that I’m this artist and that art is me and that this whole thing is inside of me. I’m completely grateful for that process, that dream that we had to come here. It’s not for the faint of heart for sure. For me, it really expedited the process of finding myself, of who I am and of what I can do while living outside my comfort zone and having no other option but to do art.
Q: What brought about your move to the U.S.
A: Me, my husband and my son were all born and raised in Israel, which is very tiny and has a load of issues and it has a very unique pace not unlike New York City, very fast paced, a kind of urgency all around. Not that we don’t have it in us in a way, but at the same time we never felt that we really belonged there, and we got to this crossroads in our lives that we were not happy with our jobs. We lived in a small kibbutz so technically we didn’t own anything. We didn’t have much to lose. And we came her for a visit that really made it apparent that we need to change our lives. Basically, we needed to go really far away from where we were born and raised to try another life.
Q: Now that you’ve been here over a decade, do you feel a sense of belonging here?
A: It’s funny. I don’t think I’ll ever be a true American by any means, but then again, I don’t know what it means to be American. Everybody comes from different places, even those who were born here, so I think everybody has a different interpretation to that term, and America being a big melting pot, we’re just a small contribution to that. I’m more kind of like this global citizen and because I’m an artist and I work for myself and my husband helps me, we don’t really have this daily grind with other people, in terms of going to an office and kind of comparing to other people. I don’t have to match myself to others or to compare myself constantly or to show off. So, in many ways I found my place if that’s the question. I found my home. I definitely see Houston as home. We’re weirdos or I don’t know what to call it but we’re definitely not a part of any herd or any group of people. We definitely have habits and behaviors that we kept from our “past life”, that are not American, but we also adopted many American lifestyle habits that we love and that improved our lives a lot. I’m grateful to live in Houston and to still find myself through this process. I’m don’t think this could have ever happened in Israel.
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