Balancing art and academics
OUS professor encourages students to make meaningful art
Thomas Suter is firmly entrenched in two worlds: as an academic and an artist.
That his office at Ohio University Southern’s Ironton campus is across from the art department’s gallery is a metaphor for his daily life — a constant search for equilibrium and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It is a balancing act between being an artist and an educator,” Suter said. “I have to find time to create the work and show my work. As a professor I work with my students to enrich their experience.”
Since 1997, Suter has been the senior lecturer of art and campus program liaison at OUS.
A native of Portsmouth, Suter earned his bachelor’s of fine arts from the University of Cincinnati, his master’s from Miami University and his master’s in fine arts from the Academy of Art University.
His love of art is rooted in his father’s and grandfather’s skills as brick mason and stone mason, respectively.
“They were artisans,” he said. “At an early age I began using tools. I remember my mom and dad talking about me making work at an early age. Some of that must have been innate. I love to see something accomplished from the ground up and see it built up to something beautiful.”
Nowadays Suter reaches out to technology to create his canvases of digital paintings.
Taking a base, like a photo of a slide of a stem cell or a topographical map, he layers intense color onto the grayish picture by using Adobe Photoshop and digital painting programs. From that he shapes the colors into figures, always with a theme.
“I work on a computer to compose an image,” he said. “My work always has a part of science in it. I explore how we choose to manage ourselves and our lives. How internal forces and external forces affect us.”
Often then he will have the digital painting printed on canvas and then enhance it with either acrylic paint or gold dust or natural substances like mica or carbon black.
He works on multiple pieces at a time.
“So I don’t get so preoccupied with one piece,” he said. “I enjoy the process of making art. It is a catharsis for me. Making art allows me to relax and move away and lose myself. I want art that people have an emotional response to. It may conjure up a memory.”
That is the philosophy he teaches to his students.
“I want our students to rise above mediocrity,” Suter said. “To make art that says something, that has meaning. Our students are bright and very creative and very resourceful. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with such people. It is good to be around other creative people. It is like a community.”