Artist finds passion in the printing

Sunday, January 11, 2009 | 4:00 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Ben Chlapek is like his artwork: lighthearted.

“With Ben you get pretty much what he presents,” said Bob Hartzell, who taught Chlapek’s printing class at MU. “Nothing fake about him.”

Chlapek, a 2007 MU graduate, quit his full-time graphic design position in the Kansas City area to return to Columbia and pursue the art he enjoys most – silkscreen printing.

The floor of his living room/studio creaks as Chlapek takes sock-footed steps from his worktable to a paper-drying shelf. The room has just enough light for the 23-year-old artist to do his work. Pulling ink across the screen, he makes a print. He removes the poster from the screen and then slips the piece onto the shelf. The print is of a forest with “you + me” carved into one tree.

“It’s cheaper to live here, and you can walk everywhere,” Chlapek said. After moving back to Columbia, he took several poster jobs, including producing work for The Blue Note and Mojo’s.

While his work has childlike qualities, Hartzell, a printmaker with a master's degree in fine art from MU, defines Chlapek’s work as deceptively simple. “On the surface it appears to be simple, but there’s depth,” Hartzell said. “Ben makes it look easy.”

Everything is drawn by hand — no stencils. Chlapek uses bold lines and pigment-rich colors, creating dark images that are more fun than they first appear. "It's playful, on the lighter side of things,” said Jeff Brooks, a friend and fellow artist. “It's lighthearted, and there’s humor in everything.”