Chandra Johnson is a lady of many talents. Not only was she a past dancer, gymnast, and model, but she has also played a major role in the arts and philanthropic communities of Charlotte. Chandra’s authenticity (along with her husband Nascar legend Jimmie Johnson) shines through in everything they support. They launched the Jimmie Johnson Foundation in 2006. To date, more than $6.7 million has been contributed to various organizations. The foundation currently focuses on funding K–12 public education, primarily through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation/Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Champions Grants program. Champions Grants have been awarded to 63 schools located in California, Oklahoma and North Carolina, where the Johnsons grew up and currently reside.
Chandra’s latest endeavor, the founding of SOCO Gallery, brings a much welcome addition to the local gallery scene and raising the bar for creative talent in the Queen City. Her passion for supporting artists and cultivating their careers is extraordinary as seen in our latest Creative Minds interview…
When did you know you wanted to pursue opening SOCO gallery?
Collecting contemporary art brings me so much joy and I wanted to share it with my community. I also love helping artists further their careers and connecting collectors to their work. SOCO is a natural extension of this passion to provide a platform for the artists I believe in.
How did you get started?
I started with doing pop-up exhibitions and was hooked. Ironically, SOCO Gallery is now a permanent space, but will continue to have a pop-up feel with a revolving exhibition schedule. It will always feel fresh with each new show.
Do you have a process for how you select artists for the gallery?
Absolutely. The mission of SOCO is to bring relevant artists and artwork to our program. A lot of time, travel and research goes into the global conversation of art world happenings, and we want to bring all of that back to Charlotte. At the same time, I hope to push out great, southern work into the world as well.
What about how you select art for your own personal collection?
I collect slowly and thoughtfully. I have to really love the artwork and the artist. I have learned, over time, how important it is to support the careers of artists you believe in. I have a connection with every single piece in my home. Once I started surrounding myself with really great work, I became addicted.
Tell us about your current exhibitions.
‘A Fluid Journey’ is our current group show featuring Mona Kuhn, Will Adler, LeRoy Grannis, Massimo Vitali, Karine Laval, Ken Van Sickle and Xavier Guardans. This is the first time all of these international artists have been exhibited in Charlotte. The work selected for this show builds on our qualitative state around water and all images evoke a feeling of leisure. Perfect for summer!
Can you give us a glimpse of what to expect from SOCO in the future?
Liz Nielsen is opening a great show with us in September. She had two solo exhibitions in NYC earlier this year and is slated to exhibit with Danziger Gallery (NYC) next year. We are thrilled to be included in her circuit.( See more below about upcoming exhibitions)
How has the south influenced your taste in art?
All of my surroundings influence my taste in art. Our daily experiences shape us and Charlotte has been a big part of my life for the last 11 years.
How did you start your art collection?
I started my collection with a lot of research and a lot of looking. I would frequent shows in major cities, mostly NY, and travel to art fairs. You definitely start to see a pattern of what you are drawn to and exposure is the best way to train your eye, learn and grow.
Do you have any advice for budding collectors?
Collecting is so much fun and something you can do for a lifetime. It should be a completely different thing than just a decorative piece for your house. My advice is to build slowly and invest in pieces that you love.
Whose work (artists, creatives, etc) do you admire?
Diana Vreeland and Eva Hesse
What would be your fantasy work of art to own?
I have been fantasizing about a Louise Bourgeois sculpture and a Francis Bacon.
What is your dream vacation?
What is your secret vice?
What is your idea of bliss?
Riding bikes with my family. I am always happy when I ride a bike and my kids are the same!
If you had a theme song, what would it be?
“Happy” by Pharrell
Photography, works on paper, canvas, sculpture, mid-century furniture, Line Vautrin compacts, books, vinyl, cocktail napkins, pickle forks, and antique china…just to name a few!
What has been your most recent art trip/ or adventure?
The Aspen Art Museum and The Sculpture Center in Queens.
What is your favorite museum outside of Charlotte?
The Whitney! They flat out nailed the new space in the west village.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Tough question – I guess I would like to be remembered as a great human, mom, wife, philanthropist and creative force.
What is your favorite space (interior/ architecture/ garden) in Charlotte?
SOCO Gallery is my new happy place and I love the Sacred Garden at Avondale Presbyterian on Park Road.
Southern Comfort (SOCO) Gallery is delighted to present its upcoming exhibition, Night Garden. An exhibition of unique photograms by the New York based artist, Liz Nielsen. The exhibition will run from September 9th through October 31st, 2015. The opening reception will be held on September 9th from 5 to 8 PM. Additionally, there will be an artist talk on September 12th from 10:30 AM to 12 PM. This will be the artist’s first exhibition with SOCO Gallery, and her first time exhibiting in North Carolina.
Liz Nielsen’s unique, jewel-toned photograms take photography in a new and unexpected direction. She uses handmade, transparent color gels and filters to create complex and layered compositions. The photograms are made using handmade negatives, experimental light and darkroom techniques that she developed over the past decade. Her studio darkroom becomes a stage for an unseen performance; she skillfully shines lights through blocks of color and whizzes flash bulbs and candles past the light-sensitive photo paper. The resulting works teeter playfully between representation and abstraction; blurring the lines between photography, painting and collage.
In this new body of work, Night Garden, layered shapes of bright colors create fantastical, organic forms that pop from dark, glossy backgrounds. The layers of intersecting lines, shapes and color reveal her analog process, and push the limits of what a photograph can be.
Liz Nielsen studied Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she received her B.F.A., and attended University of Illinois at Chicago for her M.F.A. Nielsen’s work has been exhibited extensively in Chicago, New York, and Berlin; her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Schalter Gallery (Berlin), Benrimon Contemporary (New York), Interlochen Center for the Arts (Interlochen, MI) and in 2015 at Laurence Miller Gallery (New York) and Denny Gallery (New York) as well many group exhibitions including David Zwirner Gallery (New York), and Rawson Projects (New York). Nielsen’s work has been reviewed in the New Yorker, New York Times, Artslant, Hyperallergic, and the Wall Street Journal. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.