Day in the Life of Kristin Hjellegjerde

Elephant spends a day in London's SW18 with Kristin Hjellegjerde, who has run her gallery in the area since 2012.

This year my habits have been quite erratic as I have been travelling continuously: we did nine international art fairs and we’ve also put on ten exhibitions at the gallery here in London. But sometimes I do try to create a routine. When I wake up in the morning I am usually immediately in the mood to work (unfortunately, perhaps). I check in to see if something has happened overnight in another time zone, then I make sure my two boys are ready for school, before going to the gym or for a swim to force my mind to take a break and to come up with new solutions; they usually happen when you try not to push them.

I am so lucky that I can walk to the gallery on Old York Road in only seven minutes and once I’m there I must quickly have a latte at Brew or CWTCH to get myself centred for the day ahead. At the gallery we go through what the most urgent tasks of the day are first. Until now it has mostly been me and Hedvig here, and we work like ten people—with a bit of help from others in between. We have to be pretty efficient. I usually check the accounts in the morning to make sure everything is ok. I’m not sure it’s something I really need to do every day, but it makes me feel more organized.

During the day we do a lot of shipping, we organize our programme, prepare for art fairs and events. We handle promotion of current and future shows and organize meetings—it’s important to have as many people come to the gallery to view our programme as possible. We are constantly in touch with our family of artists and also collectors who have become our friends. The most exciting part of my day is when I can get a great new collection or collector interested in an artist’s work. Closing a deal is my kind of fun. Every time I can make one of our artists excited and happy about a sale, exhibition or other event is another highlight.

I try to think of what I can do for all of my artists on a daily basis. I am trying my best to make sure they feel happy and busy. The great thing is that they are such great friends with each other by now too, so they are often in touch giving each other support. I think it creates a safe zone for all.

I love people, and luckily people who are interested in art are people you want to hang out with. So if the chance comes, I like having the collectors around, hosting dinners and lunches with them, and hearing about what they like and don’t like. It gives you other impressions and ideas. We are fortunate that when most of our collectors acquire one piece from us, they end up purchasing another not long after. I am always grateful for their loyalty. Some collectors have bought work from seven or eight of our artists, which proves our artists are rather complementary. In the evenings I often go and see other exhibitions, or go to dinners. Other nights I cook for the boys at home and make sure all homework is done and that they are happy.

When I opened the gallery a little over five years ago I looked for the nicest street in my area. As a foreigner with no credit history in the UK, I can’t believe how lucky I was to meet the Patel family, who trusted in me and let me have the space we are in for only three months deposit and let us begin fixing it up. The Patels gave me a sculpture of Lord Ganesh and it sits high up on a shelf in the gallery as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the giver of intellect and wisdom. The god of new beginnings, giving the space great energy.

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Back then, there were fewer cafés but the street is just getting better and better—although we miss some of the old haunts as well. It is strange to see how one street can change so much in five years. My favourite spot in the neighbourhood is my girlfriend Naomi Ruth Elli’s clothing store, Anthology, which is also on our street. She became the best friend one could have after I opened the gallery. We support each other through our ups and downs and she styles me for any event I go to. It’s a great friendship, full of joy, laughter and, once in a while, a couple of tears.

London has a great energy, with an incredibly international mix of people, which makes it pulsate with life. May it never change. I have in many ways often felt like an outsider, especially as I started my gallery in a location where there are no other galleries, although I concentrate more on international clients and my artists are very international as well. Lately though, I feel there is more of an acceptance towards me and the gallery, which makes me feel more included and respected in the London art scene and it feels good, like I suddenly belong in my adopted city. Absurd in the time of Brexit perhaps!
Photography by Benjamin McMahon