How Rope Artist Annie Tull Discovered New Ways to Reinvent the Canvas

How Rope Artist Annie Tull Discovered New Ways to Reinvent the Canvas

Annie Tull uses repetition and rhythm to push the boundaries of color and line. Her sustainable site-specific installations are created from organic cotton rope and plant-based dyes. Tull’s experimental approach and sleek design sense led her to be named one of ‘20 Artists to Collect in 2020’ by London-based DESTIG Magazine. With dual background in interior architecture and fine art, she uses rope as a means of connection.

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Tull grew up in Delaware and headed west to earn a BFA from the University of San Francisco. Assisting the muralist Eric Hongisto inspired her to work on a larger scale and discover ways to reinvent the canvas. Her three-dimensional paintings in space simulate brushstrokes around the room. She has a Masters degree in Interior Architecture and Design from George Washington University and is currently based in Maryland.

Since completing her graduate studies, Tull has designed corporate interiors and installed numerous commissioned works. She welcomes the opportunity to combine her fine art background with architecture and design, but aims to exhibit her installations in galleries and museums. Her objective is not to create work that is simply part of the decor, but to expand the possibilities of what art can be.

As an artist, I have always been more interested in creating an experience rooted in the interconnectedness of all life than in producing salable art for an elite audience. To this end, I have adopted ordinary cotton rope as my main medium and endeavor to use locally foraged botanical and earth pigments whenever possible in an effort to make my work accessible and understandable by all. String is a utilitarian material found in all cultures across the globe and has been used in a million different ways for thousands of years. It requires no special technical understanding; it’s a common language that ties us all together.

By using an ordinary household material like rope, and exploring its creative potential, Tull hopes to create visual experiences that are ‘honest, intentional, and contribute to a journey of artistic and self-discovery.’ She is committed to a creative practice with an earth-first ethos.

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Annie Tull — Artist Statement

Annie Tull - Headshot
Annie Tull

I consider myself first and foremost a painter, though my conception of this role and the media associated with it is ever-evolving. Most recently, this has meant developing a method of painting in space using cotton rope to articulate brushstrokes across a room.

From early on, I have been intrigued by the physical experience of a work of art, both in its final state and in the process of creation. For me, the act of painting is a fluid exercise, a dance in color, space, movement, and light. It is a natural extension of my process, then, that carries me away from the 2D substrate and into the realm of interactive 3D media, even as I maintain the traditional methods that connect me to painting: the use of hand-ground pigments, the meticulous preparation of surface, and an expressive approach to color application.

Through this exercise of deconstructing my painting process, I have come to realize that canvas is simply an interlaced pattern of individual strands of fiber, and paint is a vehicle for fixing pigment in place. Understanding this, I become free to “color outside the lines,” to circumvent expectations, and to introduce a third dimension.

Using lengths of cotton rope anchored by a simple framework of chain, I trace shapes in space like oversized folds in fabric, twisting and soaring in seemingly untethered suspension. The precise mathematical process behind creating these forms underscores the divine order of all Life. Likewise, stepping back to view the work as a whole, this systematic composition dissolves into a dynamic landscape defined as much by its physical nature as by light and air. With the addition of color, either hand-dyed or painted on, I get to see my paintings come to life in three-dimensions at a scale that invites interaction, exploration, and play. Moving through the artwork, overlapping layers of parallel lines create a shimmering moiré effect that brings to mind questions of perception: the perception of substance and space, body and spirit, sensation and cognition.

Annie Tull – Grant Submission Work

Annie Tull. Next Level
Next Level

This was my debut site-specific rope installation for Enlisted Design Studio. In the street-level lobby, vintage vitrines display bundles of brightly colored cord that shoot upward to form a cathedral ceiling before emerging in the second-floor open office, where they twist and turn under concrete beams and above rows of desks, connecting the various work areas as a physical metaphor for the team’s collaborative design process.

Annie Tull. Wavebreak

This undulating form was inspired by the dramatic meeting of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged California coastline. Over 3,000 feet of hand-dyed 1/8” thick organic cotton rope is suspended from lengths of shimmering zinc-plated sash cord anchored to ceiling beams with monofilament wire to create a moment of impact that floats within the semicircular space.

Annie Tull. Forêt Moiré
Forêt Moiré

This architecturally-integrated rope installation carves out a dramatic lounge space within a converted warehouse in Culver City. Playing on the garment industry history of this space, I used flexible chain link to create a curved anchor point system, evoking the form of a zipper and giving this piece an amorphous form. The rope threads through the links, creating a moiré effect as you move through the space.

Annie Tull. Into the Ether
Into The Ether

For this curved-wall-based installation at a mattress shop in Berkeley, Ca., I began by planning an array of points in CAD software to explore how lines, when crossed at precise intervals, begin to create curvilinear shapes. Three layers of flat-laid yarn wrapped around pin nails tapped into the drywall suggest depth and movement as they lull you into an ethereal dreamspace that is equal parts real and imagined.

Annie Tull. Concept for an Abstract Painting in Space
Concept for an Abstract Painting in Space

In this concept drawing, great lengths of chunky ropes in colorful hues scratch across the canvas of an open atrium to create a dynamic abstract painting in space. I drafted this proposal for a commission that was cancelled due to the 2020 pandemic, but the exercise has opened up a world of new possibilities as I expand on the idea of transforming cotton rope into ethereal brushstrokes in space.

Annie Tull – Artist Bio

Annie Tull is a rope artist known for her dynamic paintings in space. Since 2017, she has been engaged full-time with her art practice, developing her particular medium and style which continue to push conceptions of what a simple line can be and how repetition and rhythm of this most basic element can become such a complex and elegant metaphor for the beauty of life all around us.

Born and raised in Delaware, Annie moved to San Francisco at 18 to study art and explore the wild wonder of the Pacific coast. In 2011, she graduated from the Fine Arts program at the University of San Francisco and worked as artist’s assistant to muralist and educator Eric Hongisto. It was in completing a series of large abstract murals alongside Eric that she developed an advanced sense of scale and color, and to think about art off-canvas.

In 2014, Annie earned her Master’s of Fine Art in Interior Architecture & Design from The George Washington University and went on to work in corporate interiors, designing unique experiences for Marriott and Kimpton hotels and the offices of Yelp, Uber, Salesforce, among others. This is where she first encountered a market for the big art she wanted to create, with an installation commission from Beau Oyler of Enlisted Design in Oakland. This debut piece, “The Next Level,” received international press for its innovative approach to corporate office design.

Annie was named one of “20 Artists to Collect in 2020” by London-based DESTIG magazine. She continues to develop her creative practice with an emphasis on sustainability and an “earth-first” ethos. Since completing a Permaculture Design Certificate in 2020, she has committed herself to using only plant-based dyes and organic cotton rope in her installations.

Annie Tull on the Web And Social Media

Here is where to find out more about Annie on the web and social media:

About the Artist of the Day Series

All artworks have been published with permission of the artist. Our "Artist of the Day" series is a regular feature highlighting artworks from the 100's of grant applications we receive. The "Not Real Art Grant" is an annual award designed to empower the careers of contemporary artists, and this is one way we honor all entries we receive. Find out more about the grant program here.

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis is a writer, photographer, and former New York gallerist based in Richmond, Virginia. She has a masters in fine art, a BA in Russian literature, and is earning a masters in nonfiction writing at Johns Hopkins University, AAP.