''Ten fingers, 10 pies'', is how Gerard Manion describes his diverse creative working life.

When not designing systems for online corporate learning and plotting to spin it off into a platform for lifelong education, Manion is designing stage sets for longtime collaborator, Graeme Murphy.

Gerard Manion has a new exhibition at Maunsell Wickes Gallery, Paddington.

Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

And in the stillness of early morning, when his wife and four children are sleeping, Manion transfers the loose sketches he's made watching Murphy's dance rehearsals to paper, linen or canvas.

Fifteen figurative works from behind the scenes of the Australian Ballet's tribute to Murphy's 50-year career in dance are on show at the Maunsell Wickes Gallery in Paddington until June 14 showcasing Manion's other career as an established artist.

''I've always drawn, ever since I was a kid,'' Manion said.


''I'd go mad if I didn't draw, I'd go mad if I didn't engage in it; you truly go to a different place when you do art. I draw all the time when I'm doing set designing and I like to say I get to sit in front of the best bodies in the country, and I always carry my little [sketch] book.''

Manion's exhibition, Linear, features studies of the hands of concert pianist Simon Tedeschi at the piano keyboard. His drawings of the human form are not limited by conventional boundaries as he tries to capture the movement he can replicate in his mind's eye.

Simon, oil on linen.

Photo: Supplied

''I'm constantly trying to get the perfect line, the perfect form of what I've got in my head,'' he said. ''It's a bit serendipitous of creating movement; I am after movement because nothing is perfect.''

An undiagnosed dyslexic – though he doesn't care much for labels – Manion was a ''horrendous failure'' at school. ''I haven't read a book since I was 12 or 13 and even then my mum read half of it to me anyway. I read a great deal in short, sharp stretches.

''When you've got something lacking you are more inquisitive in other ways. I feel like when I do a session with clients and I'm teaching something, it's business but I'm drawing an image or a picture of what success looks like. I've always been just incredibly positive about that.''

Manion studied art at Armidale TAFE for two years before moving to Bundeena where he assisted the artist George Gittoes. It was Gittoes and fellow artist Bob Marchant who introduced Manion to gallerist Dominic Maunsell, who took him on at age 26.

Connected, by Gerard Manion

Photo: Maunsell Wickes Gallery

It was a city exhibition of Bundeena artists in 1997 that brought Manion in contact with Graeme Murphy. When Murphy left his card, Manion thought the choreographer wanted to commission a work. Sensing a kindred soul, Murphy had another idea entirely.

Manion was commissioned to stage Murphy's Air and Other Invisible Forces in early 1998, the show premiering at the Opera House in September 1999. Manion has gone on to design another eight stage projects including the Australian Ballets production of Romeo & Juliet in 2011.

Business can learn a lot from the creative arts, Manion said.

''The reason why I've been successful with the companies I've created is because I've put as much creativity into the companies as I do outside them.

''There is a lot of debate going on about how much creativity has been lost in Australian business with people working so hard.

''Creativity creates lateral thinking, it creates innovation and it's almost like we lose those parts at times because all the [business] structures are linear and formulaic and I'm not saying my way is the best way – god knows there'll be people who'll say it's hard to deal with – but from innovation we learn, and that's what I love most,'' Manion said.

Linda Morris

Linda Morris is an arts and books writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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