Twin artists, working side by side


Twin brothers Rowan and Bly Pope stand together in front of a display of their artwork at Grand Hand Gallery in St. Paul.

Rowan and Bly Pope have been creating things together ever since they were little kids.

"We'd make masking tape monsters and little ghosts as kids - it was that kind of art making we did as kids that brought us together," said Bly recently at Grand Hand Gallery, where the two are showing their artwork. "We'd go exploring in the woods, which is where we developed our appreciation of nature," Rowan added.

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"Now we're exploring the wilderness of our minds," says Bly, to which Rowan quickly tags on "and our childhoods."

This is what it's like talking with the 30 year-old fraternal twins; so often do they finish each other's sentences that it's almost like talking to one person, or witnessing someone talking to himself. While the two profess to have different groups of friends, and differing personalities, they have lived the majority of their lives together, with Rowan following Bly out of the womb by just ten minutes.

"Our parents say Bly forges the path and then I follow along and augment the path, or add imaginative ideas," chuckles Rowan.


Graphite portrait of Freya Manfred by Bly Pope

Rowan and Bly are the children of an artistic family. Their mother is poet and memoirist Freya Manfred, daughter of the novelist Frederick Manfred. Their father is screenwriter Thomas Pope (writer of F/X and Bad Boys among others) who teaches film theory at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Raised in the outskirts of Bloomington, the brothers say they spent a lot of time out in the woods, learning to entertain themselves.

Growing up the two formed a bond atypical even for twins. When the two enrolled in different colleges at either end of the country, Rowan soon found the distance too much.

I started out at Wesleyan, but I found I was too lonely without Bly, so I came home for a while, and realized that I needed my brother so much that I ended up applying to Stanford and transferring to be with him. That was the first time I realized how much I needed my brother.

At Stanford both Bly and Rowan majored in studio art and minored in psychology. That's where they began to seriously explore drawing. They found they were both extremely gifted in creating hyper-realistic images using nothing more than a .3 millimeter mechanical pencil and a q-tip. But it is in their choice of subject matter that the differences between the twins emerge.


Eucalyptus by Bly Pope

Bly describes himself as an avid fan of photorealists like Chuck Close and Richard Estes. He chooses subjects like plants and faces, in moments that might be overlooked by the common eye. He portrays things as he sees them, and leaves others to give the image meaning.

Rowan, on the other hand, has a fantastic imagination, and he uses that imagination to create tableaux that are filled with emotion and storyline. It's only after he's imagined the scene that he starts taking pictures in order to start building a catalog of visual details to draw from. He calls the technique "composite photo realism."

The photos provide me with so much detail that I couldn't come up with on my own. I take a huge number of photographs - maybe 500 - and then narrow them down to 15 or so which are used as sources for the final image.


Judgement by Rowan Pope

Bly somes up their artistic differences this way:

Rowan's work is not just about technological virtuosity, it's symbolic and has deep layers of meaning. Mine is more deadpan, literal and straightforward.

To which Rowan adds:

But you are also glorifying the mundane.

The brothers say they feel lucky to have each other. While they don't draw works together, Bly says they consult each other's feedback regularly, and support one anothers efforts.

It's really been a source of confidence and strength for both of us. We played sports together too; art was a way for us to work independently, and express our individual selves, yet also give us a sense of collaboration and unity.

Rowan, remembering his experience at Weseyan, says he's conscious of the downside, as well:

It's a blessing and a curse. Because we are so close, we rely on each other so much, we need each other that much more.


Orange Flower by Bly Pope

Rowan and Bly Pope will speak tomorrow at an artist talk at Grand Hand Gallery from 2 - 4pm, and there will be a reception for the exhibition on September 18 from 5-8pm. The exhibition of their works, which takes up the front portion of the gallery, will be up through October 10.