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Ortho Owen was born as Robert Weller Owen on January 29th, 1953 in Nakina, a remote village in Northern Ontario, Canada, with a population of under 700. He was the second child of young parents, John Owen of Chatham, Ontario & Pauline (Gilmore) Owen of Detroit, USA, a gifted piano student. His father John worked as a game warden with the Ministry of Lands and Forest and the Department of Indian Affairs, so the family tended to move around a fair bit: Nipigon, Nakina, Moose Factory Island at the base of James Bay, Chapleau, Sioux-Lookout. Some of the homes had all the usual modern facilities,  others had no running water or hydro and just a wood stove for heat. In 1967 the family, now with five children, decided to move back to Southern Ontario, to a life of more comfort and possibilities.
In Sarnia Ortho began to find his passion for drawing and playing all different types of sports. His friends nicknamed him Ortho at this point to distinguish him from the other boys called Bob.
After graduating high-school at Northern Collegiate Institute in Sarnia, he studied at the University of Western Ontario in London, the Ontario College of Art (O.C.A.) and Three Schools in Toronto.

In 1977 Ortho decided that he wanted to see the world, starting with Europe. To save money he had worked as a deckhand and helmsman on the Great Lakes. That first time he made a round trip through Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, Holland, Great Britain till lack of funds forced him to return home and to work on the Great Lake ships again. Back in Europe in winter 1977/78 he bought a motor bike and rode all the way from Amsterdam to Southern Spain. He was lucky to find a cottage high in the mountains above Marbella, near Ojen, overseeing the Mediterranean and the African coast. He made some money selling sketches and prints to nearby galleries. Then he met Sonja, the sister of his Dutch friend Henk Suk. He had planned on more travelling but instead he followed her back to Amsterdam and there he lived and worked for the last 16 years of his life.

Although Amsterdam has perhaps the highest density of artists per square mile he was determined to make a living with his painting. He learned film animation and silk-screen techniques.
The Owen sports prints and paintings and private commissions were a means to keep the funds flowing while he painted more freely on his personal desires. Some of this work consists of about 15 large oil paintings depicting almost cartoonish surreal scenes with influences of Francis Bacon and Pop-art.
Some people have called them the death paintings, but although death is an obvious theme in these paintings, most of them were painted before his terminal diagnosis.
When reading and writing began to fail him, he went back to drawing: in studios with a life model he made drawings of nudes, in the Muziektheater Stopera in Amsterdam he drew dancers during workouts.
In the final year of his life he had found a new studio, situated near the harbour front. There he drew mostly women, strange aggressive haunting women. His last painting was of a woman/swan singing her last song.

He died in Amsterdam August 11, 1994, 41 years old, 10 years after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was buried in Aylmer, Ontario.



  1. part of a letter from Ortho to Dr. G. Cairncross, neurologist/oncologist, Cancer Centre, London, Canada
  2. Hands Up, a play by Ortho Owen
  3. Links

In a letter to Dr. G. Cairncross, neurologist/oncologist, Cancer Centre, London, Canada:  

... So you want to buy a real 'Ortho'. I've found him a tough nut to crack. Approached after a bad day on the links you might be confronted with an incomprehensible lump of self pity and inner rage. Not advised. The Leafs on one of their dives is not recommended either (what are they on now?). What you need is a day of pink, milky warm pink. He thrives on those days. It may be a car, a bike, a flower, anything, just that colour. The only stipulation being, the sighting must be accidental. Any planned pinks, any you knew were there, like a billboard you see everyday, has no effect. No power. There is very little you can do about 'the pink', but it is an indication your clock is on time. That's the thing , your clock’s on time. Incidences, coincidences, luck of the draw, etc. On time. Ortho has (for the moment) this pink thing. But really what is important is if he feels good there is a deal to be made. We got him down to $.300.00.
Here are brochures, yellow are gone, give if possible couple other choices just in case.

Gotta put a knot on this, have found a studio, watches trains go by, is parked beside two old triple-masters and sharing the building with a Rock Band and a Tia... something oriental. I don't know. Not entirely soundproof. Will find out... I'm sure.

October 1993

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Scene opens with landscape, Dutch dunes, countryside,

hilly, a few small trees, the odd stand of pine. It is

dawn but there is just enough light to see the silhouettes

of two men walking steadily along a path or small

road. They are heard softly but imperceptibly

talking. At this point they are still a distance

from the camera. Perhaps only heads are visible

as they traverse a few small hills. The closer they

get the more discernible the conversation ...


Sal:                  I told him stories.

Fred:                What? You told the kid stories.

Sal:                  Yeh,...sort of.

Fred:                Bullshit.

Sal:                  What do you think about every other minute of

                       the day?

Fred:                (catches on quickly) Oh...(laughs), great sex,

                       ...women ….

Sal:                  You'd have thought I had spent my life in a


Fred:                And he didn't notice?

Sal:                  Maybe,... in any case he enlightened me

                       with a little fantasy of his own.

Fred:                The dog.

Sal:                  Anyway it worked. I'm not sure why though.

Fred:                Well that's obvious..

Sal:                  He was preoccupied,...true.

Fred:                No time to think of timing, rhythm...

Sal:                  You would have thought.

Fred:                But he survived.

                       I see a light already.

Sal:                  Damn, we must have speeded up too much.

Fred:                Hands Up (simultaneously their arms go up).


          They approach a guardhouse and a striped boom across the road

          they are walking on. The boom goes up, as they pass.

          Fred turns his head slightly to get a better look at the guardhouse,

          Sal keeps his eyes straight ahead, they continue, boom down...


Fred:                (whispers) There's nobody there.

Sal:                  Shhhh...


          A little further


Fred:                No one, just like the last one, ...

                       something's going on.

Sal:                  (still quietly) Keep it down.

Fred:                Nobody there, nobody to hear us...

Sal:                  I don't trust it.

Fred:                No, no, of course not...but it's strange...

Sal:                  It's a trick.

Fred:                (turns to look back as the house drops out

                       of sight) ...yeh...(almost reluctantly)

Sal:                  Watch your step Fred

Fred:                Maybe they're all having a piss together...


Sal:                  Hey look, I don't know any more than you do...

                       I've never seen this sort of thing before

                       either, but I've a feeling they are up to

                       something...and that will never be good.

Fred:                ...(convincing himself) maybe, leading us on,

                       or something, false hope, they being gone...

Sal:                  Don't even think about it...if they are after

                       anything that will be it, you thinking about


Fred:                o.k, o.k...


          They walk in on in silence for a few minutes.


Fred:                How did the kid handle the switch?

Sal:                  Oh, know, new partners, new faces, a

                       little tension, a little joy...

                       You’re out of step.

Fred:                Sorry. Maybe he made it, he was young.

Sal:                  Yeh.


          They continue in thought.


Sal:                  Sun's up, it's warming up...

Fred:                Could be a nice day. (looks at sky)

                       Sal, maybe...

Sal:                  Don't start Fred.

Fred:                How do we know?

Sal:                  That's just it.

Fred:                What?

Sal:                  Not knowing...they are making room for doubt.

Fred:                Isn't there?

Sal:                  Fred, you have to understand, the moment you

                       allow doubt is the moment you become vulnerable,


Fred:                ...but...

Sal:                  Listen, you let that little light of hope be

                       seen, they'll come out and step on it.

Fred:                I understand Sal,...I understand that, a set-up


Sal:                  ...and discussing the subject has you looking

                       for the light switch.

Fred:                (silent for a minute)

                       So you have hope too, I mean the light,


Sal:                  Not in the sense you suggest.

Fred:                You can qualify hope?

Sal:                  The situation will dictate the necessary

                       action. Hoping for a situation to occur is not

                       part of it.

Fred:                Fuck Sal, do you ever dream?

Sal:                  No.

Fred:                Then what the hell keeps you going?

Sal:                  My legs.

Fred:                ... or those fictitious women...(smiles)

Sal:                  Better get our Hands Up Fred.


          As they round bend, checkpoint comes into sight


Fred:                ...and...?


          There appears to be no one at the gate, they march on,

          boom goes up on cue and they pass under, timing



Fred:                (having taken a longer look, almost speaks at

                       normal volume)...third time in a row...?...does

                       that do anything to your fantasy?

Sal:                  (whispers) Careful Fred ...(his arms remain up,

                       Fred's are already down)

Fred:                (having looked around again)...gone...

Sal:                  The boom is still functioning.

Fred:                Autopilot,...can mean anything...or nothing.

Sal:                  Yeh...might mean they are watching.

Fred:                That occurred to me,...but the camera stays

                       fixed on the boom.

                       ...listen Sal...give it a chance...

Sal:                  I suppose you've got a major plan.

Fred:                Nothing major...but...what I was

                       thinking was, we leave messages for those behind

                       us, just scratched in the dirt,

                       nobody here....or.....

Sal:                  ...or 'hallo, my name is Fred, I'm walking ahead

                       of you and I was wondering if you had seen a

                       guard lately because I haven't and if you

                       haven't then that means we both haven't, and...

Fred:                C'mon Sal...there's gotta be something we can


Sal:                  Instead of wait you mean.

Fred:                Of course.

Sal:                  …maybe...aaahhh...


          Suddenly they both fall forward hard, the rope

          between their legs got snagged by a root or

          stone, their weights snap the rope. The two men

          scramble to their feet and start off automatically,

          both picking up the count to make up for the lost

          seconds...for a minute or two they hurry slightly

          then slow their pace to the normal rhythm. Fred

          looks down at the severed rope, Sal finds himself doing

          the same. They look at each other, neither has spoken,

          as their feet continue to move in unison.

          They look down again, Fred longer and the two begin to

          fall out of sync. Sal being slightly smaller than Fred, they

          both try to make the correction. Not being used to walking alone,

          they mess up completely..


Fred:                ...well, that's it then...

Sal:                  (looks at Fred)

Fred:                ...they'll think we were trying to escape,

                       we're fucked.

Sal:                  ...relax Fred...You're speeding up.

Fred:                (getting red and pissed off)...what the fuck

                       does it matter, we're fucked, one way or the


Sal:                  Your timing Fred. (Fred is already a step of

                       two ahead)

Fred:                Didn't you see that rock? Jesus Christ...we'll

                       be jogging.

Sal:                  Slow down Fred...

Fred:                I can't jog.

Sal:                  Fred!

Fred:                Jogging (look at heaven) Jesus fuck...

Sal:                  (Fred now five or six paces ahead) Fred if you

                       don't stop...I'll break your fucking leg...

Fred:                (head down now mutters)...I'm not made for it,

                       look at me...(he stops, turns to Sal, as if to

                       show him that he wasn't made to jog)...I would

                       not last an hour...10 minutes...

Sal:                  (catches up, grabs Fred by the arm and gets him

                       walking at the same tempo)...keep the pace Fred,

                       we'll think of something.

Fred:                ...jogging...

Sal:                  Get it together Fred, we're almost there...

Fred:                ...Sal, the rope, it's broken,...

Sal:                  Get in step with me...c'mon Fred, for fuck

                       sakes, move your fucking leg with mine...

                       (Fred reluctantly obeys)...

Fred:                ...but the rope...

Sal:                  Maybe they won't notice, c'mon, now...(Sal gets

                       his hands up). Hands Up.

                       (Fred obeys, and they walk on silently)


          They come into sight of the checkpoint,

          it has been vandalized, the boom rests its end on the ground

          as if someone had jumped on it, the camera has been knocked

          off, windows have been broken, but there is no one in

          sight... They walk by in silence, looking at the

          destruction, carefully stepping over the boom.


Sal:                  Would that be a message from the group ahead

                       of us?

Fred:                Who ...else...

Sal:                  It's not Sandskrit.

Fred:                (they walk in unison) Christ Sal, do you realize

                       what this could mean.

Sal:                  The possibilities are not alien to me.

Fred:                It's over! IT'S OVER!!

Sal:                  Maybe.

Fred:                They're gone.

Sal:                  Maybe.

Fred:                We can go HOME!

Sal:                  Really?

Fred:                Eternal optimist...(slaps Sal on the back)

                       Hey, no need for walking on your hands

                       Sal, but if you can't whistle, a smile might

                       reflect this change in events...if deemed

                       reasonable of course.

Sal:                  I prefer to wait Fred.

Fred:                You're not a real frontrunner are you Sal?

                       It wasn't a checkpoint destroyed beyond


Sal:                  It looked like that.

Fred:                It looked like that? Christ Sal, what the hell

                       did you see then? That I didn't.

Sal:                  A trick.

Fred:                (looks at him in bewilderment) A trick.

Sal:                  Could be.

Fred:                (shakes his head)

                       A little elaborate wouldn't you say Sal?

Sal:                  I'll concede that.

Fred:                Concede, Sal, I was joking.

Sal:                  I'm not Fred.

Fred:                You're serious.

Sal:                  I'm just not eliminating that possibility.

Fred:                You want to tell me why?

                       … we're not that important Sal.

                       Just a couple of walkers. No threat to the

                       order, no record of disorder, a couple of names,

                       numbers even that a computer checks off a list

                       every ten minutes. Nothing more, I mean they

                       would have to have had how many people involved

                       in this intrigue?...And all for us Sal?


Sal:                  Just for the laugh that's in it Fred.

Fred:                The laugh?!

Sal:                  The more elaborate the set-up the bigger the

                       laugh                 .

Fred:                Well they've outdone themselves this time,

                       they'll laugh themselves sick.

Sal:                  Just don't underestimate them Fred, I may be

                       wrong, that would be a relief, but I don't feel

                       free. Do you?               

                       (They have not changed gait or the three-

                       legged aspect)

Fred:                Christ,  you can't overlook the damage, inside

                       and outside of the checkpoint,...well it looked

                       pretty convincing.

Sal:                  Why didn't the people who wrecked that post

                       stick around, they knew we're only ten minutes

                       behind them?

Fred:                That checkpoint could have been knocked over

                       20 or 30 minutes ago, they probably figured they

                       might as well go on, we'd catch up at some time.              

Sal:                  And they left no message.

Fred:                The damage wasn't message enough Sal?

Sal:                  And there has been nothing else unusual about

                       the day, no sounds, shots, cheers, shouts,

                       no unusual movement on any horizon,

                       kind of silent revolution don't you think.

Fred:                The best kind.

Sal:                  Look Fred, if you want to go ahead I won't hold

                       you back.

Fred:                What?

Sal:                  I mean if you want to catch up to those who

                       wrecked the post, go ahead. It's not my place

                       to try and keep you here.

Fred:                I see...well, thanks Sal.

                       …. I'm not sure I should leave you just when things

                       are beginning to look up. We've come a ways together,

Sal:                  Just in case you might want to Fred.

Fred:                .. (after a couple minutes of silence)

                       You were testing me weren't you?

Sal:                  Yes.

Fred:                You knew I wouldn't go.

Sal:                  Chanced it.

Fred:                Why didn't you ask?

Sal:                  We'll be almost there, I think I'll put my

                       Hands Up.

Fred:                Maybe I'll just wait on that.

Sal:                  Keep in unison anyway Fred  (and Fred complies)


          They come into view of the post, Fred's hands shoot up

          and they march quietly on. What they see as they

          approach, is the post is still intact and three guards,

          apparently dead, stripped of boots and weapons, the

          camera is lying on the ground. As they come up to the

          checkpoint the boom starts to go up, but the body of

          one of the guards is propped in a position that

          prevents it from going all the way. The short end of

          the boom goes down, hits him on the head, returns to

          position. Fred is shocked at the sight and has the

          inclination to go over. Sal gives Fred a yank and they duck

          under as the boom starts to go up again.


Sal:                  Leave it Fred, he won't mind.

                       (looking at Fred) Take it easy, he's dead...

                       (Fred is kind of white) going to be sick?

                       Fred?... we'll stop...o.k.?

Fred:      , no...I'm all right...just ah...I..

Sal:                  Hey, not a pretty sight...

Fred:      , not's just, well, so brutal.

                       Animals, the people who did that.

Sal:                  Our side Fred.

Fred:                Christ.

Sal:                  We'd better hope those 'animals' win.

Fred:                Those bastards...those fucking ignoramuses...

Sal:                  Yeh, why didn't they consult us first?

Fred:                (looks at Sal like he'd gone a bit nuts,

                       sees a smile coming, his anger is turned a bit,

                       laughs) dare they?        

Sal:                  We want to set up a commission of investigation

Fred:                Justice will prevail...

Sal:                  Justice? (and he laughs, and then sobering)..

                       Still Fred, they are ahead of us, it may run its

                       course without us...we'll be spared the indignity,

                       and hopefully the consequences.

Fred:                I'm not sure Sal…

                       I don't think we'll be spared that,...

Sal:                  ...oh no, Fred,...I'll not put up with your fighting

                       spirit again, you just said you wouldn't be associated

                       with those animals...

Fred:                They can't all be animals, there's bound to be a lot

                       just like us, only they're doing something about it.

Sal:                  Shit Fred, your convictions shift with the wind...look,

                       nobody asked me to join this war, nobody asked me if I

                       thought it was a good time to fight, this is conscrip-

                       tion by blackmail. I don't know who they are, or what

                       they are after nor do I think they have much of a chance.

                       So they vandalize a post and knock off another, it's

                       small potatoes Fred, to rush up there and join on a

                       whim and a prayer is not my idea of good odds. I value

                       my life more than that.

Fred:                We could improve the odds.

Sal:                  A drop in the bucket.

Fred:                You don't feel anything for the cause, people die for


Sal:                  And a lot of other stupid reasons.

Fred:                This treadmill has gotten to you Sal.

Sal:                  I'm alive.

Fred:                And the quality of it?

Sal:                  My life?

Fred:                Yeh.

Sal:                  Could be worse.

Fred:                (throws hands up in disgust)  Could be worse. Well that's

                       fucking relative, isn't it.

Sal:                  Maybe.

Fred:                Jeez Sal when do you become incited to something

                       other than apathy.

Sal:                  Sorry if I disappoint you Fred.

Fred:                Christ, you're beyond help Sal.

Sal:                  It may be too late for me, but I think your chance

                       has arrived...(gestures ahead)


          They are almost to the next post. Hiding in the bush just

          ahead of them and out of earshot of the post are a group of

          prisoners like themselves.


Fred:                Hey, what's going on?

Pri1:                 (turns angrily, puts his finger to his lip,

                       Fred spoke a little too loud)


          Sal and Fred approach.


Pr1:                  (whispers) Where the fuck have you been?

Fred:                uh...well

Sal:                  We're here now.

Pr1:                  (looks menacingly at Sal who blankly looks back.

                       The prisoner looks at their feet, sees the severed

                       rope)  I see you're with us, good.


          The apparent leader turns away, signals his troop to move out.

          There appears to be a group of eight, they split up heading off

          into the brush on both sides of the  trail. The leader turns

          to Fred and Sal


Pr1:                  You're decoys, just walk on as though nothing is

                       going on. Their attention will be on you, keep your

                       legs in unison. They won't notice the rope until

                       you're on them, then we'll hit’ em. Give us a



          and he quickly disappears into the thick brush.


Fred:                Sal...

Sal:                  Up front and centre stage Fred,...

Fred:                There are eight of them, eight,...what the hell do

                       they think they can do...

Sal:                  You expected an army?

Fred:                More than eight, and half of them armed with stones

                       and clubs, fuck me Sal...

Sal:                  ...and me.

Fred:                We're going?

Sal:                  Not a whole lot of choice,...are you ready?

Fred:                No.  ...those guards are going to

                       be waiting this time, ambush won't work...

Sal:                  ...get your Hands Up, and stay with me.

                       I'm going to limp. If they believe I'm hurt,

                       they may not shoot the minute they see us,

                       we won't be dangerous enough. It might also

                        give us an explanation for being so late

                       c'mon let's try...

Fred:                Oh boy...

Sal:                  ...and don't do anything heroic Fred, when the shooting

                       starts, hit the deck and crawl into the brush...


          and the two head off slowly coming into sight of the post,

          their hands as high as possible, Sal dragging his left foot

          as much as possible without falling, Fred scared stiff, eyes

          bulging staring straight ahead. There is a yell from the

          guardhouse, a scurry of activity, four guards come

          out pointing their guns menacingly. An order is given, a

          shot goes off, the bullet hits the road in front of them...


Sal:                  Keep walking Fred,...

Fred:                (starts to blubber and whine under his breath,

                       Sal glances over, Fred looks ready to faint,...)

Sal:                  (whispers) Just a little further Fred …


          Orders are given at the post once again and two of the guards

          begin to walk toward Fred and Sal... At that moment all hell

          breaks loose, a shooting starts, grenades are thrown,

          yelling and screaming.

          The guards coming toward Sal and Fred turn for an instant

          towards the sound and Sal takes the opportunity to give Fred

          a push sending him into the side of the road and at the same

          time he jumps to the other side.


Sal:                  KEEP DOWN!


          The guards turn back to see them disappearing and start

          spraying the bushes while they retreat to the post for cover.

          Shooting and screaming continue for a minute, then it's over.


Sal:                  (looks out from hiding place, doesn't see anything

                       moving, a loud whisper) Fred... Fred... (mutters)


                       (There is no sound from across the road, but the

                       brush moves slightly) ...say something Fred...

Fred:                (groans a little) ...Sal


          Sal looks back up the road to the checkpoint, and to his

          surprise sees that the prisoners are busy picking the

          pockets of the dead guards and collecting guns.


Sal:                  Fred, it looks like we won...we did it...


          He finds Fred lying on his back, Fred smiles up at Sal..


Fred:                ...I think I've been shot Sal...

Sal:                  Ah Fred, ...ah shit...lemme see...

Fred:                You'll have to roll me over,... I can't move my

                       legs, fact I can't feel them either...

Sal:                  Maybe I shouldn't move you,...

Fred:                ... and let me bleed to death, c'mon Sal help me...

Sal:                  o.k, o.k... (begins to roll him over) ...does that

                       hurt Fred?

Fred:                ...I can't feel a thing...

Sal:                  Fred.

Fred:                Yeh

Sal:                  You've been shot in the ass.

Fred:                What's that mean?

Sal:                  Not sure.

Fred:                Probably have a hell of a time shitting.

Sal:                  Probably... (Sal has taken a stick and is poking

                       Fred's legs in various places, there is no reaction

                       from Fred)


          In the meantime the leader of the prisoners has come to

          find them

Pr1:                  Hey, well done,...let's get going,...what's the

                       matter with him,...

                       (takes a look over Sal's shoulder) Took a bullet

                       did you... can you walk?

Sal:                  What does it look like, he's been shot in the

                       back... (angrily)

Pr1:                  Well, we'll bring him up to the guard house, come

                       back for him later, you ( to Sal) go get a weapon

                       and get a couple of guys to help carry him,...

Sal:                  Fred, we'll get you up to the guard house, they've

                       got beds there, probably something for the wound

                       too, I'll be back in a minute.



          Sal gets up and as he climbs to the road he takes a look back.

          The leader has pulled out his pistol and aims it at the back

          of Fred's head.

Sal:                  NOOOOO...

Fred:                (on hearing Sal's voice)


          ...but even as he turns his head the shot is fired and

          Fred dies without another sound.


Sal:                  You bastard, you filthy fucking heartless


Pr1:                  (points the gun at Sal)

                       Shut up...


          Sal backs off, his hands go up automatically. As he reaches

          the road the next two walkers from behind Fred and Sal arrive.

          The leader turns his attention to them and puts his gun away.

          Sal continues to walk toward the others at the post, his

          arms still up. The boom is broken and he crosses over it

          looking straight ahead. The others shake their heads,

          one says to another

                       What the fuck?...

          another laughs

                       You're late, better hurry, you're two seconds


          The group begins to follow as the leader has arrived with the

          new men. Someone says

                       And not too fast, you'll be jogging...


          Laughter all around... Meanwhile Sal has set his steady

          pace, his arms go down. He's about 30 or 40 meters in front

          of the group


Sal:                  (muttering to himself) ... don’t you go playing

                       the hero again, just stick with me, Fred.

                       I knew it was a trick, I told you, didn't I

                       (tears in his eyes)

                       Christ, it's not your fault that we fell for it. They're tricky

                       bastards, they always find a way...though you have

                       to hand it to them, they sure pulled off a whopper

                       this time, my God, we're going to really have to

                       stay on our toes now,... watch out for those tricks,

                       stay sharp Fred...


          Then from behind him one of the others yells


                       Hands Up


          the rest laugh as Sal's arms shoot into the air...






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