This illustration for the short story, “Saint-Aurèle-de-Gifford” by David W. Henderson, was published in the literary magazine, Canadian Forum, in June 1991. The story concerns the conflict between a small town doctor and an unconventional faith healer. Fire, murder and miracles are introduced, though all is told in a matter-of-fact way. It’s Magical Realism, Canadian style. Robert’s interpretation of the story shows the alleged saint, in humble work clothes, rising up from flames, his arms raised like the resurrected Christ in Raphael’s La Disputa in the Vatican. The flames at bottom are answered by the halo around the man’s head and by the glowing lines radiating from his hands. This fantastic apparition emerges out of a rural landscape whose horizon bends at point of contact with the controversial figure. Robert uses a drawing style that mimics a woodcut; like the story, treating fantastical elements with utmost simplicity.
Though this was a commercial job for Robert, the story touched on a few of his own ideas about the way a patient participates in his own health and recovery. At one point in the story, the faith healer, Aurèle says to the doctor: “Listen Gaston, I don’t cure people. You don’t cure people. They cure themselves. Don’t you see that? Has your training so blinded you? It’s their belief in the drugs or the herbs or the prayer that heals them. And their faith in themselves. Anytime I start to think it’s me doing the healing, everything goes wrong. It’s the people themselves that do the healing.” In the story, the faith healer may be a rogue, but there is a hint of truth in what he says. Robert created a woodcut, Healing Hands, that also uses the idea, seen in this illustration, of hands giving off a field of positive energy.