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.
Sal: I told him stories.
Fred: What? You told the kid stories.
Sal: Yeh,...sort of.
Sal: What do you think about every other minute of
Fred: (catches on quickly) Oh...(laughs), great sex,
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.
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,...you 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.
They continue in thought.
Sal: Sun's up, it's warming up...
Fred: Could be a nice day. (looks at sky)
Sal: Don't start Fred.
Fred: How do we know?
Sal: That's just it.
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,
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?
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
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,...like...uh...
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.
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,
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
Fred: Didn't you see that rock? Jesus Christ...we'll
Sal: Slow down Fred...
Fred: I can't jog.
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.
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
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!!
Fred: They're gone.
Fred: We can go HOME!
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
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-
Fred: Christ, you can't overlook the damage, inside
and outside of the checkpoint,...well it looked
Sal: Why didn't the people who wrecked that post
stick around, they knew we're only ten minutes
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
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?
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
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)...you going to be sick?
Fred?... we'll stop...o.k.?
Fred: ...uh...no, no...I'm all right...just ah...I..
Sal: Hey, not a pretty sight...
Fred: ...no, not that...it's just, well, so brutal.
Animals, the people who did that.
Sal: Our side Fred.
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) ...how 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?
Sal: Could be worse.
Fred: (throws hands up in disgust) Could be worse. Well that's
fucking relative, isn't it.
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?
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.
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,...in 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
Fred: ...I can't feel a thing...
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
In the meantime the leader of the prisoners has come to
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
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.
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)
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?...
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
the rest laugh as Sal's arms shoot into the air...