As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8, National Indigenous Times is spotlighting the stories of strong, powerful Blak women across the country.
A woman who weaves culture into the contemporary, Chern’ee Sutton is a young Aboriginal contemporary artist reaching new heights.
Sutton has a packed-full portfolio. Even if you haven’t heard her name, you’ve likely seen her work.
Most recently, the Kalkadoon woman designed the jerseys for the NRL Indigenous All Stars when they took on the Māori All Stars in Townsville in February.
She’s had her work exhibited in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and London, sold art to collectors across the world, worked with the Commonwealth Games, the NRL, Tennis Australia, the Defence Force and other Government agencies, and has a piece hanging in the Royal Collection.
With only a decade of craft under her belt, Sutton has come a long way in a short time.
“I started painting when I was about 13-years-old. I was having a bit of trouble at school, so I was encouraged to enter an art competition,” she told NIT.
“It was that art competition that sparked my passion for art because I actually came first.”
Since then, Sutton’s style has changed dramatically.
“Looking back on pieces I did when I first started painting, I cringe a bit,” she said.
“I have definitely evolved since then and fine-tuned my art and style.
“I remember the first piece I ever did … It was a battle between two spirits, the good spirit and the bad spirit. It was across two panels so two separate paintings. It had the sun in the centre and animals across it.”
View this post on Instagram
All three Sutton siblings are painters, a creative streak inspired by their parents.
“Dad is a chef by trade, so he likes to claim the creativity. But Mum, she has always been so creative with scrapbooking and making things with her hands,” Sutton said.
“From a young age they had always encouraged my siblings and myself to make birthday cards and Christmas cards instead of buying them from the shop or to draw something for a present.
“I’ve always had that creativity around me, even in Year 1 I used to hold drawing classes with my friends and teach them how to draw dragons and unicorns and all that sort of stuff.”
Sutton is notorious for using bright, bold colours in her art — bringing together the ancient and contemporary, and focusing on the spirit of Reconciliation.
“It is so special that we get to share our culture with the world through our artwork. That is one thing that really empowers me, particularly Reconciliation,” she said.
“A lot of my pieces, I incorporate Reconciliation into because I combine two worlds with my art, my traditional Aboriginal heritage and the bright modern colours of contemporary Australia.
“It creates something that is very new and unique.”
Creating commission pieces for Reconciliation Action Plans is something Sutton loves doing, she says being part of an organisation’s commitment to change is a special and powerful process.
As she creates art from the centre of her being, Sutton ensures that whoever is receiving the art finds themselves in the art too.
“A lot of the time I get to know the person or the company that I’m creating the painting for on a personal level,” she said.
“You feel like you really know them so you put your heart and soul into creating something that you feel suits them, matches their personality, or their business and represents them effectively.
“When it’s done you get that ‘Colourbond moment’ … You put your heart and soul into it and to have a fantastic response is always so amazing.”
With a household of artists, there is a heavy sense of competition between the siblings.
“Jesse and Brooke beat me in a competition not long ago so they get bragging rights for the whole year,” laughed Sutton.
“You do get that competitiveness, but it is good, it pushes us. We all want to do better than one another.”
Already having accomplished a lot in 2021, Sutton is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I have a lot of commissions that are coming in, I have to work on all of those. I also had the Indigenous All Stars on Saturday, I designed the jersey again this year so I got to be there and be part of the game,” she said.
“2021 is shaping up to be an extremely busy year!”
Despite a million things on her to-do list, Sutton still finds a sense of peace through her art.
“I still find it very therapeutic, when I don’t have deadlines [and] the pressure is on,” she said.
“But that’s why I started painting — it is really therapeutic. If I had a bad day at school, I’d come home, get into painting and it would all melt away.
“I’m so lucky I get to have my passion as my career.”
By Rachael Knowles