Marie McMahon was born in Melbourne in 1953 and grew up on Air Force bases in Darwin, at Richmond near Sydney, and at Albatross, a Naval base on the South Coast of New South Wales. During the 1960s her family lived in the Philippines and eventually settled in Sydney, where she studied Painting at the National Art School at East Sydney Technical College.
McMahon gravitated from Darlinghurst to the Tin Sheds at Sydney University, where alternative housing and permaculture existed alongside experimental film, post-objective art and propaganda. MCMAHON joined Earthworks Poster Collective in 1976 and contributed to a catalogue of iconoclastic posters that were sometimes didactic and often provocative. Screen-printers from the Tin Sheds had been recruited by the Aboriginal Arts Board to work at Tiwi Designs in the Northern Territory − and in 1980 MCMAHON went to the Tiwi Islands and Arnhem Land.
During the 1980s McMahon worked as a designer at Redback Graphix, in Wollongong and Sydney, where a number of collaborative and cross-cultural print projects were realized, including the Australian Government’s health promotions “Beat the Grog” and “Condoman” AIDS awareness campaign, developed in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers.
McMahon worked in the Tiwi Islands from 1988, lived at Batchelor, south of Darwin until 1996, and from 2000 to 2001 at Gunbalanya, Arnhem Land, the home of X-ray bark painting and rock art. The Northern Territory permitted a familiarity and closeness to classical bark painting and sculpture and interaction with working artists on Aboriginal lands.
The reefs, forests and floodplains, stone country and jungle eventually found their way into a series of collages produced over a decade. They started with confetti adhered to book endpapers, in an adaptive re-use of op-shop books and the ‘chads’ left behind in a hole punch – and evolved into built forms of broken down pieces, conglomerates and drifting structures that were related to piles of shellfish and deposits in shell middens, detritus collected by Great Bowerbirds, bundles of bones, corals and crystals, rock formations and ruins.
A 2009 exhibition The Watery Kingdom was about Cambodia, a country where the natural environment, ruins and sculpture, seemed made for the scope of the collages. In 2010 an enlarged collage about the American war in Indochina was included in the exhibition Kent State – Four Decades Later at the Sydney University Art Gallery.
Marie McMahon has exhibited widely and her work is held in national and state public collections. She was approved in 1999 to value Aboriginal Australian art for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. In 2001 she was awarded a Master of Arts (Hons). She lives and works in Sydney.