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Logan Madsen has scars around his eyes that make him look older than his 26 years. On his left ear is a hearing aid. His forearms are stubby and his small hands, which each have only three fingers, are bent like claws.
"People are afraid of me. And I totally understand," says the Salt Lake City man, who endures stares from strangers almost every time he leaves the house. Madsen has Miller Syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that includes hearing loss and deformities of the facial bones, forearms and hands. He has had 19 surgeries, lives with near-constant pain and struggles with depression.
Despite this, Madsen is an accomplished artist who is enjoying his first-ever exhibition of his work, at Art Access gallery in Salt Lake City. Called "Nature's in the Details," the show contains 16 close-up paintings of flowers, which Madsen appreciates for their intricate beauty.
The gallery show, which will continue through Nov. 10, has brought Madsen media attention and acclaim. It's also forced him to emerge from a self-imposed, hermit-like existence brought on by depression and anxiety. For after spending most of his life denying his abnormalities, Madsen has finally begun to embrace them.
It hasn't been easy.
"For a long time I was in severe denial," he says. "It's not that I looked in the mirror and saw normal. But I always acted like I wasn't disabled. I have to come to terms with that somehow."
Miller Syndrome, also known as postaxial acrofacial dysostosis, is so rare that when Madsen's older sister Heather was born 29 years ago, doctors said she was only the third documented case in the world. Then came Logan - born, in a cruel irony, on April Fools Day - making the Madsens the only documented siblings with the disorder.
"The pediatrician came in and slapped me on the leg and said, 'Congratulations, you just made medical history,' " says their mother, Debbie Jorde, a Salt Lake City hair stylist. Today there are about 30 documented cases of Miller Syndrome worldwide, she says.
As a child Madsen knew he was different. To avoid teasing on the elementary school playground, he stayed in the classroom during recess. Junior high, never an easy time for any kid, was especially tough. Observant and sensitive, he was quick to notice when people acted dismissive or uncomfortable around him.
Madsen hid his pain, but it sometimes surfaced in his art. As a teenager he once drew a rose with blood dripping from its thorns. By the time he was in his early 20s, he had become suicidal and was numbing himself frequently with marijuana.
To shake him from his doldrums, his mother sent him to live with an uncle in Palm Springs, Calif., in 2002. The uncle put Madsen to work landscaping. The job heightened Madsen's appreciation for flowers and led to his first painting, a detailed close-up of a palm tree.
After returning to Utah, he began painting more often. Working from photographs, Madsen paints in vivid acrylic colors and places his flowers off-center in the frame against a solid-color background. His sharp eye captures tiny patterns between the petals.
"I try to enhance the details that people miss," the artist says. "My flowers look good from far away, but they look better close up."
Madsen is proud to have a solo show of his artwork. But probably not as proud as his mother.
"His art makes him feel better about himself, especially now that it's getting out there and being seen," Jorde says. "With every success he has with this art adventure, I see his self-esteem growing. He's doing better than he thinks he is."
Madsen, who says he has quit using drugs, wants to begin painting people and animals as well as flowers. But the future project that excites him most is much more radical: a series of unflinching portraits of his physical deformities.
"I want to do my paintings in such a way that people will think about their own bodies," he says. "I want to show people what I have to work with. I need to face reality, so I want to paint reality."
In this way, Madsen hopes to meet his disorder head on and defuse the awkward scrutiny he often encounters. It's partly why he's agreed to be interviewed for this article and for a recent segment on KUTV (Channel 2) news. It's also why his Web site (http://www.
loganmadsenfineart.com) features a prominent photo of his misshapen right hand.
"If people know about me before I know about them, it makes it easier," he says with disarming candor. "I don't want fame. Fame is to be known superficially. I want to be on an equal playing field. I want a [human] connection."
* BRANDON GRIGGS can be reached at griggs@ sltrib.com or 801-257-8689. Send commentsto firstname.lastname@example.org.