Nodding to the shared etymologies of “text” and “textile” (both from the Latin texere, ‘to weave’), Carroll’s exploration of language through thread and the tension of knitted forms, “allows the pieces to function as ‘portals’ onto the concepts their language describes.”
In the East Wing, Goldfinch is excited to present “Dungeness,” a solo exhibition of new knitted works by Los Angeles-based artist and writer Patrick Carroll.
Stretched like paintings, but knit like garments, Patrick Carroll’s text-based pieces play with what it means to be “permanently under tension,” as the artist describes. As explorations of language’s materiality, Carroll’s text-based knits, or “picture-poem-paintings,” in the artist’s words, employ painterly techniques in regards to the weights and luminosities of color, while exploring relationships between concept, form, material, and linguistics. As Carroll explains, “making text with knits under tension produces an encounter with language that is meaningfully different from language carved in stone, from language painted on a surface, from language printed, molded, woven, etc.” Nodding to the shared etymologies of “text” and “textile” (both from the Latin texere, ‘to weave’), Carroll’s exploration of language through thread and the tension of knitted forms, “allows the pieces to function as ‘portals’ onto the concepts their language describes.”
These ‘portals’ and the language they explore are sourced from the journals of British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman, kept during his time in Dungeness, Kent, where he lived from 1986 until 1994, when he died from AIDS-related illness. Prospect Cottage, where Jarman lived, wrote, made work, and cultivated a wild and unlikely garden, sits in a dry, barren landscape (Britain’s only ‘desert’), a short distance from a nuclear power plant. Jarman famously said, “My garden’s boundaries are the horizon.” In Carroll’s “Dungeness,” Jarman’s slow and focused observations of birds, his garden, and the solitude of the landscape around him, are knitted into pieces that come in and out focus, legible from different distances and angles. Like the patient acts of gardening—observing seasonal shifts and the behavior of plants—and of slow, careful reading, Carroll’s practice of knitting language creates, in his words, “a series of looping resolutions, concepts emerging and devouring each other…never touching down.”
Patrick Carroll (b. 1990) was born in Menlo Park, California. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He received his MFA in Fiction Writing at the University of Riverside in 2021. Selected exhibition include Reading (2023), Giovanni’s Room, Any distance between us, curated by Stephen Truax and Dominic Molon, RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island (2021), Installation at the JW Anderson Men’s SS23 & Women’s Resort 23 Show, Milan, Italy (2022), Memoriam, Fuji Textile Week, Fujiyoshida, Japan (2022), Lilac, Moonbeam, and Heavenly Blue, organized by Dove Drury Hornbuckle, Goldfinch Gallery, Chicago, Illinois (2023).
A Conversation between Patrick Carroll and Curatorial Director Elizabeth Lalley
Elizabeth Lalley: Can you talk a bit about your knitting process? What are the tools you use? Where do you get your thread and materials? How long have you been working in this medium?
Patrick Carroll: In December 2019, I bought a Studio SK150, which is a domestic flat-bed knitting machine from the 1970s, from a knitting-machine refurbisher, in Anaheim, that I found on Craigslist. Within fashion idiom generally what I do is called ‘hand-looming,’ but technically the machine I have is not a loom, so I tend towards saying I work with a flat-bed knitting machine with no power source besides my body.
I get almost all of my yarn online. The yarns I use for the most part are meant for clothing. There are a number of large yarn firms that develop yarns for fashion houses. They mostly sell wholesale, but oftentimes the fashion houses that make these wholesale orders from the yarn companies have some yarns leftover when the fashion season is over, and this yarn tends to go to yarn remainder stores like Colourmart. These stores then sell to consumers like me.
Over the last three years I have bought a lot of yarn and because most of the things I make don’t take up the entirety of each of the yarn types I buy, I’ve developed a pretty sizable collection of yarns. This feels to me to be a major part of the artistic practice…maintaining this yarn collection so that the works emerge from a robust assortment of colors, fibers, and weights of yarns.
EL: When did these stretched, wall-based works develop for you, growing from your clothes-making practice? How do you think about the wall-based works in relation to the garments, and vice versa?
PC: I started the stretched works less than a year ago. When I got home from Milan where I’d had clothes installed as part of the JW Anderson show, I wanted new avenues beyond clothing, as it felt as though I’d taken the clothing about as far as it would go in that moment.
One thing that I enjoy about the wall pieces is that I can work in a more delicate mode, as there’s no exigency for the pieces to survive wear and tear. Also, I like how stretching the pieces produces a sense of permanent suspense.
There is a major difference between the clothes operating under a face and the art which is a sort of face itself. Or the clothes dress spirit, the art is spirit.
When I make clothes, I am working within the history of fashion; when I make art, I am working within the history of art. Obviously, these histories intertwine, but they are indeed separate, and I like being able to go back and forth between them. The stretched works, being rectangular and hung on a wall, are not paintings but they do pretend to be, and I like to try to make good pretend paintings—it’s fun, rewarding, interesting—compelling.
EL: Thinking about language…what does it mean for you to isolate words and phrases in this work? How are you thinking about language formally as well as conceptually here? Words as images, words as material, etc…
PC: I think one thing I’m doing is trying to demonstrate the materiality of language, or make that materiality present. I think the works at their best serve as portals between matter and concept. They let onto a world of lyric histories via language and its measure, diachronically through the trace of etymology and synchronically through the stitches themselves. I think they are pretty evidently in the concrete-poetic tradition of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ed Ruscha, Renee Greene, Lawrence Weiner, Jose Leonilsson, René Ricard, Mel Bochner, Christopher Wood, Jenny Holzer, and Carl Andre amongst many others.
Also, they emerge from study of, and aim to participate in, the lineage of American lyric poetry. The poet Frank Bidart uses italics and all-caps to denote particular though ever-morphing voices—same with my works I hope: different colors and materials denote particular though ever-morphing voices.
As text comes from a root meaning to weave, and as line derives from linen, I am trying with my compositions to query how pattern, space, and discursive thought originate in the essential technology of the textile.
EL: I keep thinking about the idea of “slow reading,” spending time mulling over a word or a phrase, investigating it deeply, its etymology, its form, how it operates. By taking pieces of language and isolating them in the way you do, there’s something that makes them strange. When we spend time with a single word, there’s an estrangement that happens—one that I think can be hugely productive and satisfying. A reconsideration of words and context. How are you thinking about context? And about the isolation of language?
PC: A few ideas . . . for one, I think from one vantage the project sees each piece as inhabiting the same world. In this way, the fragments of language are never fully isolated but rather stand as signposts of the entire project. I also think that somehow making text with knits under tension produces an encounter with the language that is meaningfully different from language carved in stone, from language painted on a surface, from language printed, molded, woven, etc. . . . and I do think that the particular form—of knits under tension—is precisely how the pieces function as ‘portals’ onto the concepts their language describes.
EL: Can you talk a little about your interest in Derek Jarman and in his writings?
PC: Part of it is sensibility, the delight of the fag figure, the opulence of observation, of being on the scene, of reveling in elasticity of gender, of a very particular relation to women, to men, to time. Jarman does it as well as anyone. I haven’t actually seen many of his films, and I think his paintings are just OK, but I think he’s one of the greatest writers of the 20th century—so I’d say my interest in Jarman is in how his fag sensibility coheres into virtuosic descriptive knowledge, the naturalism of the pervert. Also, I—like so many gay men of my generation—find myself returning continually to Jarman and all like him who died of AIDS in the 80s and 90s, for this was the world I was born into.
EL: How intuitive are these works for you, versus planned and structured? I ask because of the choices in terms of enjambment, line and word-breaks. Can you talk a little about the decision-making and planning that goes into these pieces?
PC: I generally keep a long list of language possibilities. From there I keep a sketchbook of recent possibilities that interest me. I do rudimentary sketches of the pieces—this is where the lineation generally happens. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shape that the language takes. Often I am forming vessels with the language. For example, the pink and green work (“A hermit…”) forms a sort of cup. The green and gold piece “As I walked…” forms a sort of goblet. I’ve also been toying with including in the works non-lexical echoes of the shape of the language. For example, in both the “as I walked” and the “seabirds vanished” pieces, the color shapes are small-scale recreations of the shape of the language. I like this and plan to continue with it as I feel like it ‘compresses’ the concept into a sort of symbol—or button one might press. Oftentimes, when I sit before my machine and get going, I have most of the ideas set, but sometimes things change a bit as I go—for instance, I’m not sure if I had initially meant for the goblets above their text to be bright gold; or if I had, I might just as well not have.
EL: How are you thinking about color with these pieces?
PC: I’ve loved learning color through all this . . . I think I try to go ‘painterly’ with color, generally, which is to say often I use colors that are similar in hue, just slightly darker or lighter, to give the effect of light sources within the textile…like underpaintings causing paintings to glow. I tend to go back and forth between allowing the color to be representational and having the color, by being unlikely, produce intrigue. This show hews representational: “starlings” is the color of starlings (down to the highlights of purple on the thread that lines the text sides); “seabirds vanish” has vanishing text, etc.
Color is always so symbolically rich, constantly ‘becoming semantic’ in its way . . . I think “leaving” is an interesting one in this regard, this dark green . . . what is its effect? Many effects! Always with these compositions I aim for irresolution—suspense, like the tension of the fabric—series of looping resolutions, yes, concepts emerging & devouring each other etc, but never the whole thing touching down—like a painting in this way.
EL: What are the influences that you feel you’re keeping close to you in making this work?
There are a few painters / sculptors whose work recently has seemed relevant to the forms I’m making—Blinky Palermo, Barnett Newman, Anne Truitt, Howard Hodgkin. There are certain artists working in textiles whose work is often close to mind: Louise Bourgeois, Lisa Anne Auerbach, Channing Hansen, Ektor Garcia, Diedrick Brackens. I mentioned to you how Renee Green’s space poems really helped me understand what I was doing citationally, or how sculpture can ‘lineate’ text. As for writers beyond Jarman, Frank Bidart is always at hand.