There are the people who keep their fine china locked away in a cupboard… And then there’s Chandra Johnson, who uses hers on the daily, and runs it (and her silver flatware!) right through the dishwasher. Her rationale? What’s the point of having these treasures if not to enjoy them?
As an avid art collector, her attitude is the same. The stunning Charlotte, NC home she shares with her husband, champion race car driver Jimmie Johnson, and their two daughters is filled with beautiful things — swoon-worthy vintage furnishings by Edward Wormley, Jacques Adnet, Serge Mouille and Gio Ponti; art by Joan Mitchell, Damian Stamer and Joel Shapiro. But Chandra makes sure the house is also functional and comfortable for the whole family, a place where she can hang out with her kids and hang their artwork on the walls — perhaps in the vicinity of a Cy Twombley or a Robert Motherwell — and not have it look out of place.
In addition to the two budding creatives she’s raising, Chandra has long been fascinated with art and artists. And from her earliest acquisitions, a few photographs from Jayne Baum's gallery apartment in New York City, to the pieces she and Jimmie began picking up on their travels, it didn't take long for her interest in collecting to inspire her to go deeper. As her relationships with different artists developed, she started producing pop-up exhibitions and eventually decided to look for a permanent space in Charlotte. In 2015 she opened Southern Comfort (SOCO) Gallery, a contemporary art space and bookshop in Eastover. Six years and 44 exhibitions later, the gallery has helped raise Charlotte’s profile in the art world with shows featuring the works of Sally Mann, Scott Avett, Jackie Gendel, Austin Eddy, Juan Logan and several others.
“Art can shift traditional narratives and re-invent how we view the world. It is the original ‘influencer.’ ”
Chandra has made it her mission to help champion contemporary artists — creating an environment where their work can be experienced, discussed and acquired, a place where people from all walks of life can come to be inspired. “Artists who constantly push their work in a new direction inspire me the most,” she says. “I am always in awe of creative humans who have the ability to reinvent their process and mindset.”
Chandra herself is no stranger to reinvention. Born in Oklahoma, she graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in business communications. But upon graduating, she changed course, moving to NYC and signing with Wilhelmina to pursue a career in modeling. When she met Jimmie in 2002, a new love and a new path emerged, taking her south to North Carolina. In addition to getting married, becoming a mother and opening a gallery, Chandra now runs The Jimmie Johnson Foundation which is dedicated to assisting children, families and communities in need by supporting K-12 public education.
What kind(s) of art did you grow up with?
“I grew up in Oklahoma and had early exposure to Native American art. Kay Walkingstick is still one of my all time favorites.”
Tell us about the piece that is most important to you.
“It is difficult to pick the most important piece in our collection. It’s like asking me to choose a favorite child. They all mean something to me in their own unique way. However, if the house was burning and I could only save one piece, it would be our 1972 Cy Twombly WOP.”
Where is the most unexpected place you have encountered art?
“My husband and I stumbled upon an outdoor market in Sayulita, Mexico that was filled with rows of incredible artisans. It was one of the most beautiful encounters of art recently..”
Why is living with art important to you?
“In a world of ephemera, I find it important to live with something more lasting and meaningful. Art has a story and is something that took time and human hands to create. There is so much beauty in artistic expression, and I love surrounding myself with it in our home."