Painter, china painter, ceramic sculptor, designer in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. Marina was the daughter of well-known naturalist J. B Shaw of Kojonup in Western Australia. She was sent to boarding school in Perth and later became an art student at the Perth Technical School under James W. R. Linton and Archibald Webb.

In 1933 she exhibited a watercolour painting with the West Australian Society of Arts and in 1935 watercolours and china painting. In 1935 she became a student of Flora Landells at the Maylands School of Art where she learnt china painting. All of these teachers reinforced her natural inclination to develop her designs from indigenous flora and fauna.

Marina Shaw married Warwick Flynn, an aviation employee who worked on radar equipment, and they lived in Greenmount in the hills behind Perth. Here she developed a native garden growing the unique Western Australian wildflowers. This was followed by time in the country at Dalwallinu before moving to suburban Nicholson Road, Subiaco in 1944. Her husband was away in the Air force establishing radar posts in New Guinea.

Marina painted 'on-glaze’ on imported blanks before the war when there was a plentiful supply, developing a career as a china painter and a textile designer. In 1946, at the suggestion of the principal of the local Calyx factory she commenced the more difficult 'under glaze’ technique on their semi-porcelain forms, in this endeavour she was assisted by the company’s chemist. The colours available with this technique were much more limited as they would not stand the high heat necessary to vitrify the glaze. This work lent itself to the incorporation of Aboriginal designs popular at the time and considered to be an expression of nationalism. She also painted a complete tea set 'on-glaze’ with every piece having an individual motif based on Aboriginal legends and artwork. Other designs have included historic mills in Western Australia. On average each of the pieces would take two days and nights to complete.

Marina Shaw exhibited with the Western Australian Society of Arts and the Western Australian Women’s Society of Fine Arts & Crafts. Here her striking work stood out. Like a number of other women she also sold her work through city shops such as the jeweller, Caris Bros. An article in the West Australian in 1948 stated:

“Western Australian wildflowers used as a basis for design, sometimes classical and in other cases quite unconventional, give striking individuality to china painted by Mrs W. H. Flynn of Subiaco. Exhibited amongst the craftwork at the recent exhibition of the Society of Women Painters, Mrs Flynn’s work is again on view at Caris Bros., Hay Street. She has not confined her attention to the use of flora however, but has found in our native fauna much inspiration for a lively sense of design and appreciation of the limits of shape and modelling of the pieces on which she works. Her craftsmanship, apart from her designing ability, and her sense of colour values in the medium she employs, add to the distinctiveness of the work, and there is also present an awareness of the unique qualities in Australian Aboriginal art.”

Marina Shaw said of her work: “Our wildflowers have such bold shapes and such rich colours that they are ideal for working into pattern designs.” Pattern designs were a feature of much of her work. One of her most successful pieces is a plate painted with a vibrant circle of frill-necked lizards thrown in sharp relief on a red background highlighted with touches of gold. The central section featuring red bugles on a blue background with a central medallion composed of the blossom of Eucalyptus erythrocorys. As a pattern the design is strong with tension being added by the almost naturalistic lizards which are barely restrained on the surface of the plate. There is an obvious connection between the design of some of her work and that of Amy Harvey also a former student of Flora Landells. Similar strong colouring and design formulas were seen in designs exhibited by Perth Technical College students at much the same time giving pause for thought that a 'school’ style was in evidence.

The strong design base of the Perth Technical School course stood her in good stead in her later career. In 1947 she won a competition for the design for a postage stamp – a black cockatoo entitled Cocky. The cockatoo was thought by some to be a caricature of the leader of the opposition Arthur “Cocky” Caldwell and not used. Interest was shown in her design work for textiles and ceramics in both the United States of America and United Kingdom, however it is not known if she sold designs to industry in these countries. In the1940s she won a scholarship to the Slade School of Art but was unable to take it up because of family commitments.

Although described in 1985 as Australia’s answer to Clarice Cliff, at the time she worked the tone was rather more chauvinistic.

“If there is one type of person we make a bow to it is the married woman who has planned her life so that when her children have grown up she is not left in the air with nothing to do but spend her time on social fripperies. We make a bow to Marina Shaw, in private life, Mrs Warwick Flynn … “(Undated cutting c 1940s)

Shaw and her husband left Western Australia in 1948 to live in Victoria for nine years. Here she studied ceramic sculpture for four years with George Allen at Melbourne Technical College making three-dimensional figurative works in terracotta and bronze. The course included modelling, moulding, glazing and firing. Marina had two kilns built in the enlarged garage of their Box Hill home and her husband took a course in ceramic chemistry to assist her with the glazes. At first her inspiration for sculpture came from ancient Chinese work of the T’ang and Ming Dynasties but then she moved into Australian imagery of goannas and exotics such as the Bird of Paradise and Indonesian dancing girls. An early kangaroo sculpture resembles, but pre-dates, the Qantas logo. The works were made in multi-part moulds and as editions and sold in outlets such as George’s in Melbourne. Some of her Aboriginal ceramic figures were presented to Queen Elizabeth II during the Royal Tour of Australia in 1954.

From 1957-64 Marina Shaw lived in Sydney and studied 'Meldrum Method’ painting under Albert Rydge. Following this she lived in London where she studied sculpture and portrait painting at the Slade School. She returned to Sydney in 1966 living and working as a painter and sculptor until she developed Altzheimer’s disease in the 1980s.

Shaw gave a collection of her work to the National Gallery in Canberra and another to the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Dr Dorothy Erickson
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