An Artist Whose Knits Are an Antidote to Loneliness

Four years ago, the writer and textile artist Patrick Carroll helped his father, who’d developed a neurodegenerative disorder, to arrange his physician-assisted suicide in California. “It completely changed how I operated,” he says, “having to step up and deliver my father’s death.” A month or so later, the pandemic lockdowns began; isolated and grieving, Carroll distracted himself by learning to knit using a 1970s Studio SK-560 machine he’d found on Craigslist. Most days he made a new garment, many of them flesh-toned and skin baring, decorated with loaded language: a high-cut unitard with “eternity” across it, for instance, or a men’s thong, its pouch emblazoned with “wrath of God.”

Carroll, who’s 34 and grew up in the Bay Area, posted pictures of himself wearing the clothes on Instagram. He developed a small following, and the designer Jonathan Anderson displayed some of his sweaters at a spring 2023 runway show. “I could see what I was doing was fashionable,” Carroll says. “But it was also a way to be hot online, and part of its function was a cessation of loneliness.” Like many others during those quarantine years, he felt the internet was the only place where he could express himself and share his queerness. “Disengaging from that has been a long, strange process,” he says. “But I think a lot of people have experienced a similar thing.”

Eventually Carroll met his boyfriend — online — and decided he was an artist, not a knitwear designer. He now works in a studio near downtown Los Angeles, where he moved — after spending his 20s in New York as an S.A.T. tutor and getting an M.F.A. in fiction at the University of California, Riverside — to finish writing his first novel. Here, surrounded by cones of colorful cashmere, linen and silk yarn that he often buys surplus from European apparel companies, Carroll obsesses over words in a different way, inserting them into increasingly large knitted panels that he stretches on wooden bars like canvases and calls “picture poem paintings.” Although he’s not represented by a gallery, he’s recently had five solo shows, including one at the JW Anderson boutique in Milan during last month’s Salone del Mobile design fair.

Unlike most fiber artists, Carroll favors simple techniques. He generally knits at a looser gauge than is customary, an accident of being self-taught that has allowed him to experiment with transparency, texture and lettering. And while he’s tried to develop his craft, he’s more inspired by artists like William Blake, Renée Green and Adrian Piper, whose work prioritizes language. Many of his pieces feature single words, such as “refusal” or “surrender,” that tend to trigger emotions and memories. “They’re immediately referential for anyone who looks at them,” he says. “Like ‘shame,’” he adds, pointing to his studio’s wall. “The word’s in shiny Lurex, so it’s very sparkly.”

Even as he’s dressing the body less often, sex and sexuality remain central to his practice. The artist picks certain terms — “prancing,” for example — because he wants the pieces, when grouped together, to read not just as serious but as funny and flamboyant, a choice he underscores by excerpting quotes from such queer writers as Frank Bidart, Emily Dickinson, Derek Jarman and Essex Hemphill. Lately, he’s been trying to contribute his own short poems, but he often discards the results. He kept one recently, though, pleased with how it turned out: “The past’s existence guarantees every soul’s eternity,” it says in white letters barely legible inside a framed square of mauve cashmere, as soft as the message it imparts.

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