This piece is part of our RALtoday Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
Born and raised in Durham, multidisciplinary artist Gabriel Eng-Goetz has worked for himself for the last 10 years. He studied art at Syracuse University in New York but made his way back to his roots to reconnect with the community, be closer to family, and contribute to the artistic scene in the Triangle, he told RALtoday.
Most of his work is painted murals (think: acrylic paint, brush paint, spray paint), but he’s moving more into sculpture. Plus, he’s the founder of NC-centric clothing brand and arts platform Runaway.
Gabriel, 36, has three public art pieces in Raleigh and more than 15 murals across the Triangle. His most recent is a huge downtown mural of a hockey player which he painted as an ode to the Carolina Hurricanes’ journey in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. Look closer and you’ll see Gabriel’s signature natural elements tied into the piece — the concentric circles and lines form a giant weather chart. He adapted the numbers that typically mark wind speed to be every year that the Hurricanes have made the playoffs. The year the Canes won the cup is a special color (dark orange).
We asked Gabriel 10 questions about his creative process, local inspirations, and favorite Raleigh spots.
Describe your perfect day in Raleigh.
I’d kayak at Lake Johnson in the morning then get lunch at Soo Cafe. Then, I’d check out local art shows at Lump Gallery and Anchorlight + go to Bida Manda for dinner. In the evening, I’d go to a Canes playoff hockey game, watch a show at Lincoln Theatre, and dance at Neptunes (he hopes it reopens).
You can only choose one local restaurant menu to bring with you to a deserted island — which one is it and why?
Soo Cafe. They have the best chicken wings; they are next-level.
Who are 2-3 other local leaders, artists, or influencers you’re inspired by and why?
Steve Schewel, the former mayor of Durham — he was my soccer coach growing up, founded INDY Week, and supported affordable housing. Ernie Barnes was an amazing artist and also played in the NFL. And Nnenna Freelon, a Grammy-nominated jazz singer and a fantastic person.
What is your creative process like?
It begins with community engagement — asking for feedback from the community in the area that the piece is actually going to be. I’m just a vessel to channel all of the feedback into a piece of art that’s representative of those people and their area. Once I have a vision in my head, I put pen to paper. And then I paint. Projects can span anywhere from a couple of weeks to several years.
Where do you go for inspiration?
A lot of my work is informed by nature. For the first 12 years of my life my art was pretty much exclusive to dinosaurs and animals. I was always really inspired by the natural world and still am. Outside of creating art, my favorite pastimes are spent outdoors fishing, boating, kayaking, and hiking. Also, a lot of my work ties into the history of identity and culture tied into how we relate to our natural world. I try to push a natural element in all of my pieces, even if it’s in an extremely metropolitan area. Gabriel shouted out Lake Johnson, Dix Park, and Umstead Park as his favorite outdoor spots in Raleigh.
What stories do you try to tell with your work?
I want to tell the story of the people (past and present) and the place that a piece of art is going into.
How does living in the Triangle influence your work?
I have had a lot of wonderful art educators in my life through Durham’s public school system. My teachers were very supportive of me pursuing art in college and as a career. The local arts community is very inclusive and really embraces each other. And the multicultural makeup of the area really brings a ton of different viewpoints to the table.
What piece in your portfolio are you most proud of?
The Tribes of the Piedmont mural — it’s on the Willard Street Apartments, which is a large affordable housing complex in downtown Durham. We made the piece a celebration of the formerly indigenous land and the tribes that inhabited the area. I worked with the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation Tribal Council and got their blessing to create the piece. I also got their guidance creating the imagery, like the red-tailed hawk which is the symbol of their tribe.
Where can people find your artwork around Raleigh?
The Canes mural is across from Red Hat Amphitheater. My “Triple Delight” artbox installation is in North Hills + I have a rain garden mural on Hillsborough St. I also installed an interactive mural in West St. Dog.
What’s next for you?
I’m creating a merchandise line for EnoFest (Sat., July 2 + Mon., July 4) to raise money for the Eno River Association. A lot of Runaway’s collaborations focus on charitable and locally-focused causes, like the Triangle Land Conservancy.
I am also working on a sculptural public art project in Carolina Pines for the City of Raleigh. There will be three metallic pieces throughout the neighborhood as part of a roadway improvement project. We’ve been working on it since 2021 but it won’t be finished until 2024.