Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Logan Madsen: Art of Pain & Immediacy

I first encountered Logan Madsen’s artwork upon stumbling into Art Access during his debut solo exhibit in 2006. Since then, his work has metamorphosed: from the subject matter of bold-colored flowers into a harrowing, self-referential realism.I was excited to attend Syndrome Psychology, an art exhibit at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA). The event was held in conjunction with the Utah Film Center screening of Nathan Meier’s 2017 Carmel International Film Festival Best Documentary, “Logan’s Syndrome.”Which raises a question: Would Logan’s art be notable if he wasn’t one of fewer than 30 people in the world who suffer from the genetic condition postaxial acrofacial dysostosis (Miller’s Syndrome)? Or if he wasn’t on the autistic spectrum? Or if he hadn’t had a life-threatening lung disease?

Existentialists among us will point to Heidegger and argue that we all suffer the fate of mortality. But when this kid was born, doctors told his parents that he’d die at any moment. Like, literally any moment. That was on April Fool’s Day in 1980. He’s been breathing since (with difficulty) and painting in a state of physical pain that the majority of us can’t fathom.

Still, because it’s difficult to talk about the artist without sympathizing with his disease, and because we live in a world that champions the unextraordinary accomplishments of people who are afflicted in ways we are grateful to not be, the question remains: is Madsen’s art worthy or is it simply good—because?

If you take Logan’s word for it, plenty of artists have superior training. In terms of art history, Logan says he doesn’t “know anything.” Agree with Logan and the only reason people like his art is because of his condition.

Conversely, my opinion is that Logan’s disease informs his creativity with a perspective on life that is as unique as the art he creates. Would Logan’s art be notable if he wasn’t who he is? Note to Logan: We can ask this about any artist.

Logan’s exacting portraits and intricate human forms convey an alienation and anguish that, although highly personal and categorically unique, speak to the human condition of suffering. Logan’s work is charged with pain and immediacy. But there is also hope and humility in his brush stroke. Stylistically, his work is utterly accomplished and reminiscent of the self-portraits of Francis Bacon, who wrote: “I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs.”

Logan’s artistry expresses a mastery of self-consciousness. Although his work arrives to us as the result of a condition for which he’s endured a lifetime of gawking, he engages each canvas with honesty, vulnerability, passion, and despair that nourishes the viewer.

“I started painting after things fell apart on me,” Logan said while trying to be polite but really just wanting to eat his hummus. “I painted a little in high school but then consciously dropped art. I didn’t see any value to it. I was set on a 9-to-5. My whole focus in life was to be an adult. I wanted to get a job and be—nobody.”

I asked why he didn’t pursue that path.

“I couldn’t do that because of my disabilities. I was in such denial. I didn’t even believe that I looked different. I couldn’t figure out why life was so hard. I was drinking all the time and working odd jobs through a temp agency. I didn’t have any direction. Then Mom said, ‘Go to graphic design school,’ so I went to Utah Career College. Did 18 months for my associate’s degree.”

Logan has always drawn things that others couldn’t—a point of pleasure and pride throughout his life. But he didn’t complete his first “real painting” until 2001 or 2002.

“I moved to Palm Springs for three months to help my uncle who ran this landscaping business. I was a laborer, but things fell apart. My car got stolen. I was drinking. Doing drugs. Then one day I started this painting. My subject matter was palm tree fronds. Up-close palm fronds. From there I transitioned into a series of flowers that some people compared to Georgia O’Keeffe. I chose flowers because I thought the paintings would sell but I knew I could reproduce the images on cards.”

When I ask about his influences, he wryly admits to being “woefully ignorant about artists. My goal is to just paint. Anything and everything.

The problem is that with such short and deformed arms, Logan is constantly stressing his body to use them. “My pain goes to 10 while I’m painting,” he admits. “Sometimes it’s just unbearable.”

Still, Logan commits four hours a day to the process. To date, his body of work accounts for approximately 40 paintings. Still, he produces. And those productions are really, really, hauntingly good.

For more information about Logan Madsen’s art, visit https://www.loganmadsenfineart.com.

Calvin Jolley’s work has appeared in American Book Review, MAYDAY magazine (New American Press), Context South, Caveat Lector, Yefief, and other publications. He is a Literary Editor at 15 Bytes.

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