A family stand close together forming a totemic tower of smallest to tallest, their bodies overlapping with a patient stretched-out resigned on a hospital bed. Their gazes alternate from side to side, creating a turning, twisting motion that leads upward toward the stationary figure. There is a sense of cohesion and solidarity among the group, even though each is occupied in a different way. The children playfully explore a fantasy realm through the use of props. The parents are divided between watching their children and visiting with the patient.
The children’s props symbolize aspects of the title “Progress”: the breathing apparatus suggests life may be quickly passing, as the patient progresses to another, possibly more terminal, stage; the deck of cards suggests the cancer treatments have random successes and failures, as if the patient’s fate depends on a game of chance; the looking glass searches for meaning as well as for clues on the progress of the disease. The title is both ironic (the artist senses his treatments aren’t working) as well as mystical (what comes after death?) The family of five are reminiscent of the family Robert grew up in—it’s as if the artist and patient is looking back on his own life.
A reproduction of Progress was used on the cover of Dr. Thomas Seyfried’s book, Cancer as a Metabolic Disease, 2012.