Chern’ee Sutton is a 20-year-old indigenous artist from Queensland with a successful small business. Her heritage lies with the Kalkadoon people from the Mount Isa area in Queensland and she started painting when she was just 13-years-old.
When she was experiencing trouble at school during her early teenage years Chern’ee was encouraged to enter a professional art competition despite never having painted before. “I didn’t expect anything to come out of it. But I came first! And that’s what sparked my passion for art,” she says.
After her first competition, Chern’ee embraced painting and worked constantly on her art. She has undertaken a journey that has rewarded her with both national and international success. Chern’ee embodies her ancestor’s culturally sacred stories in a optimistic style. Her work is also a reflection of a young Aboriginal’s view on their identity and culture.
In 2011, she gained national exposure through a television interview on ABC. Chern’ee also donated some of her art-work to the people affected by the 2013 Bundaberg floods. Following the sudden spot in the limelight, Chern’ee held her first exhibition at Queensland Parliament House. She began selling her paintings through the Aboriginal art galleries in Sydney. Now, her paintings are involved in 13 exhibitions all around the world.
Chern’ee also developed her own chocolate range called ‘Chern’ee Sutton Originals’ which is the first time Aboriginal art has been embossed onto the chocolate bars themselves. The Aboriginal images are printed in white chocolate and placed onto the darker chocolate. And printed in dark chocolate and placed onto the white chocolate. Using patent technology, Chern’ee’s work is printed onto the chocolate with chocolate creating a ‘mouthwatering piece of art’ that is 100% Australian made.
Chern’ee’s artistic talent has allowed her to get involved with many cultural activities. She was invited to design the Indigenous component of the Commonwealth Games mascot (Borobi) for 2018. Her artwork and story was used on Borobi’s paws, feet, surfboard, name and advertising signage and will play a major part in the lead up to the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast. Three of Chern’ee paintings have also been used to the official licensed men’s and women’s Indigenous All Stars jerseys and merchandise for 2015, 2016 and 2017 by the NRL. She has also designed the new Indigenous All Stars Logo and the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Logo.
“I wake up in the mornings and getting straight into paintings. Some days I undertake workshops or travel away for a week or so. But mostly my days involve painting, painting and more painting,” she says.
Chern’ee’s painting small business is full-time. She paints from morning till night. There is a lot of effort that goes into creating a painting and she mainly works alone. It’s just her and her paintings. Recently, she’s been doing workshops with disability services, school children and at a youth summit for the Indigenous All Stars.
When she was starting out, Chern’ee would also use painting as a form of therapy. She would start paining from the moment she came home from school. “All of my troubles would just melt away,” she says. Her paintings promote reconciliation and enable a deeper understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal life and culture.
With every small business comes its fair share of challenges. For Chern’ee, it’s being able to juggle numerous projects at the same time. She’s been asked to complete projects from different organisations.
She adds, “These projects are things that I would never have thought to do in a million years”. For instance, she was requested to do a painting for Dreamworld which consisted of a 6 foot canoe. She was only given 24 hours to complete the project. She says that “trying to find time to fit everything into one day is really challenging”.
Chern’ee’s various achievements are a reflection of the inspirational figure that she has become. She has proven that despite her age, anything is possible when ambition meets passion.
Press play! Watch Chern’ee as a 16-year-old artist