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Uncut currency is money for Rochester artist

Reduction printing offers little room for error and Scott Cheek prefers it that way.

Scott Cheek
Scott Cheek, a reduction printer, on Thursday, June 23, 2022, at his home studio in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — For Scott Cheek, the higher the stakes, the better the reward.

Cheek specializes in reduction printing. The art is similar to block printing except that instead of having a block for each color, the artist uses one block. After laying the first color, the artist carves that block for each next color.

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It’s not a forgivable medium for mistakes.

Even that’s not high stakes for him. For his best pieces, he prints on uncut sheets of U.S. currency.

Generally, uncut currency sheets are valued at about twice the showing bills add up to. A sheet of 20 $1 bills is worth about $40.

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Scott Cheek
A sheet of dollar bills is seen in Scott Cheek's studio on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Rochester, Minnesota. Cheek uses the currency to print his reduction prints on.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“Those usually sell pretty quick,” he said. “Pretty much as soon as I post them (on Instagram) they’re sold.”

Does it take the ink well?

“Yes, but,” he said. Some colors take longer to dry and it takes patience to complete a work. The currency also needs to be stretched like a fabric canvas.

So far, those prints have all turned out fine, Cheek said.

Cheek mused it must be part of his nature. He moved to Rochester late last year to work as an emergency radiologist for Mayo Clinic. In his spare time he rides a motorcycle.

“I enjoy doing a lot of things where if you mess up, it’s pretty detrimental,” he said.

The extra stakes in creating his art helps him focus, he said.

A friend introduced Cheek to reduction printing while Cheek was working as a radiology intern at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital. At the time, Cheek was still exploring what art medium fit him best.

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Scott Cheek
Reduction prints are seen from Scott Cheek on Thursday, June 23, 2022, at his home studio in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

An offhand comment from a professor at Western Technical College inspired him to pursue art. The professor dismissed someone's art saying the person was only considered an artist because they called themselves an artist.

Cheek took it to heart. If he created art, he told himself, he could call himself an artist.

Cheek started with realism pencil drawings. It felt too safe, he said. He switched to pen and ink drawings.

“I loved the idea of the work being somewhat permanent,” he said.

Then he began to dabble in printing.

“I saw the value in being able to produce the same image multiple times,” he said.

Scott Cheek
Detail is seen in the hand-carved stamp used for reduction prints by Scott Cheek on Thursday, June 23, 2022, at his home studio in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Reduction printing offered a thrill of creating prints in real time. It requires the artist to continue to alter a block and imagine the steps needed to produce his choice outcome.

“It’s always nerve wracking until you print that last color,” he said.

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Creating something that takes focus and has little margin for error is cathartic, Cheek said.

“When I’m highly stressed, I really don’t show it,” he said. “But I need that decompression time.”

His one reduction print mistake so far has been on white paper and not a sheet of currency, he said.

“It was still salvageable,” he said, showing the finished work.

The error?

“One thing you have to remember when you’re printing, you have to write your words backwards,” he said with a smile and a shake of his head.

Being new to Rochester, Cheek is still trying to find his market. He is working to get pieces in local galleries and Treedome store and studio downtown.

“I think half of selling art is getting it to the right place,” he said.

In September, one of his pieces will be at the Rochester Art Center as part of a show called “Rochester Looking at Climate Change.” The show, organized by artist Layne Noser, will feature more than 20 artists whose work addresses and responds to the climate crisis. The show opens Sept. 9.

Cheek will have a piece called “Peace Tree” in the show.

Scott Cheek
Scott Cheek, a reduction printer, on Thursday, June 23, 2022, at his home studio in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Scott Cheek
Scott Cheek, a reduction printer, on Thursday, June 23, 2022, at his home studio in Rochester, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Related Topics: ROCHESTERARTPEOPLEEXCLUSIVE
John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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