Life & Culture

Making order out of the chaos of life

Sue Haskel went from a stall at her shul art and craft fair to a major Mayfair gallery exhibition in just 18 months


Imagine 100 multi-coloured butterflies alighting on a white surface, each one taking its place in a perfect circle. Or autumn leaves, dancing to a standstill, glowing as the light catches them. And then think of piles of tiny squares, arranged in a grid, each one a glowing colour, every stack different.

Now imagine cutting out all those butterflies or leaves from paper, arranging them onto a surface and sticking them into place. I know that if I tried my efforts would end in a sorry clash of hope over ability, with glue everywhere, crushed butterflies and broken dreams.

“I do end up with glue all over my fingers,” admits Sue Haskel whose exquisite three-dimensional works of art I’ve been admiring. “It can be hot and sticky work. It’s like doing a jigsaw in two dimensions.”

Haskel is an inspiration to anyone who’s dreamed of making an arts-based hobby into a new career in midlife. She only started making her artworks around 18 months ago, and first sold them at Alyth Reform’s arts week just over a year ago. Well done to the keen-eyed buyers who snapped them up from her stall. Her success there encouraged her to invest more time in creating and promoting art to sell, and she is now preparing for her first show in a Mayfair gallery. Her prices have gone up considerably.

She’s the first to admit that her background in marketing was key to her rapid progress in the art world. Haskel grew up in Cockfosters, unusually for a Jewish girl attended a Methodist boarding school, then transferred to Haberdasher’s for the sixth form where she enjoyed A level art. She took a degree in business management, and worked in marketing for various companies, while keeping art as a constant background activity, studying sculpture and wood turning.

She’s married to economist Jonathan Haskel, a professor at Imperial College, who was awarded a CBE in last month’s Birthday Honours List and made headlines recently when he was appointed to the Bank of England’s interest rate-setting committee. They have two daughters; the younger has just taken GCSEs.

Haskel left the corporate world to set up her own business as an interior designer — she ran a successful business, helped by her marketing skills, but found that most of her time was spent dealing with contractors. Then some bungling workmen dropped a mosaic artwork (“they tried to put it back together with a tube of Uhu!” she jokes) and Haskel decided to move on.

At first she made her paper sculptures one day a week, but her success at Alyth kickstarted a year of art fairs, at one of which she met furniture designer and gallery owner Leo Duval, who invited her to show her work at his Plateaux Gallery, best known for its championing of art made from glass. The show opens on July 11, endorsed by Lord Stevenson, former chairman of the Tate Gallery who says “It’s rare to come across work which is at the same time unpretentious yet original. Both of the pictures we have are hanging in our house and are giving great pleasure to us, our family and friends.”

Haskel is thrilled that the show is at Plateaux, partly because it is located in Thomas Goode & Co, the grandest shop imaginable, which has purveyed (there is no other word) luxury items to royals and rich people since 1827. It is “phenomenal”, she says, describing its pair of china elephants, seven foot high, made by the Minton pottery for the the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889. Thomas Goode & Co has recently been bought by Jewish property developer Jonny Sandelson and Haskel is keen to find out his plans for this venerable institution.

She’s been busy preparing for the show, but still finds time for charity work focusingon mental health and well-being, especially for school children. She’s been working with the charity Young Minds to affect government policy to put children’s mental health at the centre of the curriculum, “not just part of PHSE on a Friday afternoon.” Brexit scuppered hopes for legislation, an Education Bill one of many shelved as civil servants concentrate on our exit from the EU, but Haskel hopes this is only temporary.

Often her work has an “uplifting message”, which can be found in the title. One large work made up of many squares is called Order out of Chaos, and is, she says a good metaphor for our lives, how we do that very thing through our choices.

She’s a member of Alyth Reform, and has made some artworks for people who work there which incorporate Jewish themes, but mostly her work is universal. She wants to encourages others in their fifties to to follow their dreams and relaunch their careers. “Positivity gives you a great deal,” she says, “I’m generally an optimist in life.”

Her role model is her “dear departed Dad. He found everything interesting and had endless energy.”

Her words and art are truly uplifting. Maybe I’ll get out some scissors and glue and have a go.


The Third Dimension: Three dimensional work in paper by Sue Haskel is on at the Plateaux Gallery from July 12


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