Courtney Blazon is a romantic when it comes to nostalgia. Ask the 28-year-old local illustrator and collage artist what her inspiration is, and the creator of such handmade books as A Jazz Age Glossary and A Hipster’s Dictionary mentions the obvious: old movies. Blazon doesn’t mention specific titles as she waxes about early talkies and melodramatic mid-century classics, but knowing her work you picture her watching seminal Howard Hawks films of the 1940s and ’50s, with dialogue delivered at a staccato pace and characters’ lines often overlapping. Blazon’s work is like a contemporary, two-dimensional throwback to Hawks, her collages conveying vintage material in bold lines, competing patterns and chaotic arrangements that, when packaged together, are not only aesthetically striking, but also tell a story.
“I think my style is to take from a lot of different sources, usually old-time things, and to try to make them new,” Blazon says. “I think, when I’m at my best, the art isn’t derivative, but it’s evocative of something familiar, something you can’t quite pinpoint. It’s something that makes you say, ‘What’s this reminding me of?’ without ever really getting the answer.”
Although she’s lived in Western Montana off and on since 2002, Blazon’s only established her Missoula roots within the last year and, just this summer, her exposure has exploded. A member of the local independent press Slumgullion, Blazon sells her books, cards, stickers and buttons weekly at their People’s Market booth, and she currently has her work on display in Hamilton at Curbside Traders. On Friday, July 29, she’ll be the featured artist in Slumgullion’s summer book launch at Shakespeare & Co., with her usual handmade items available along with some of her large-scale paintings; “I Spy (with my little eye),” already on display, stretches 9 feet long.
But Blazon’s most notable recent exposure was more anonymous than her recent influx of shows—earlier this summer she was approached by the local underground theater troupe Missoula Oblongata to design promotional materials for their original production, The Wonders of the World: Recite. With posters plastered and fliers strewn across downtown, Blazon’s brilliantly colored collage—it depicts a cherubic boy at the foot of a lighthouse surrounded by a whimsically chaotic, Technicolored-looking shoreline—essentially introduced her distinctive style to the area.
“No matter what I do, there’s that stamp, almost like a brand,” Blazon says of her work. “I didn’t want to impose by putting my name on the [Missoula Oblongata] poster, but after it was everywhere people made the connection. I had people realize it was my work…and that kind of branding has helped [get me recognized].”
Blazon started her artistic training at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts and later transferred to New York City’s Parsons School of Design. She graduated from the latter with an emphasis in illustration and continues to work in both collage and drawing. While her collages are currently getting the lion’s share of attention, Blazon’s latest project is a pen-drawn deck of Old Maid cards.
“I try to keep one project of each going at the same time,” says Blazon, who has stayed in Missoula, in part, because she can afford to work part-time and focus the rest of her energy on creating art. “Sometimes I feel like I never leave the house because I’m always working. I’m not prolific, I don’t think, but maybe a word something like that.”
Blazon’s home workspace is immaculately organized, but a visitor can tell it’s a bevy of activity: seven completed Old Maid cards sit evenly perched on a shelf, three sizeable stacks of unbound collage books are off to the side, two more stacks of unfolded accordion books lie in wait on the table and, in the corner, somewhat out of place with its bookish formality, is a huge black filing cabinet. Inside that cabinet, Blazon meticulously stores her collection of vintage findings—children’s books, magazine clippings, photographs, etc.—in individually labeled hanging folders. When she attacks a collage project, Blazon says she’ll turn the room upside down going through her files, separating whatever grabs her interest by color, pattern or subject matter, creating a huge mess in the center of the room. Once she settles on all of the materials, she then arranges them by hand—“Everyone thinks they’re digitally manipulated, but I swear they’re not”—and glues them to a flat surface. Finally, to help draw the viewer’s eye to certain areas, she’ll attach colored masking tape for accents that add a cartoonish flair.
“It’s always a process—it starts very organized and then it gets incredibly messy and then I pull it all back in,” Blazon says. “It feels like I’m taming something.”
What she’s typically taming is a piece of the past, making it rich, vibrant and accessible in her own style.
Slumgullion’s summer book launch, featuring the paintings, collages and books of Courtney Blazon, takes place Friday, July 28, from 6 to 8 PM at Shakespeare & Co.