Good Art is What You Like
By, Justin Ayars and Yasir Afzal
Leesburg is a historic town nestled in Loudoun County. In the past two decades, the town’s population has grown from 17,000 to over 51,000. The affluence of Loudoun County, together with the region’s community of talented local artists, led long-time Leesburg resident, Jim Sisley, to see a unique opportunity. Jim wanted to tap into the region’s competitive real estate market and, concurrently, create a space where local artists could come together and showcase their work under one roof. The resulting enterprise that emerged was Tryst Gallery. “Tryst Gallery is built on the back of needing to be more competitive in the real estate business,” Jim explained. “We have a tech incubator for companies that want to be federal contractors. We also rent out office space. I built this space to emulate an art gallery because I’m a visual artist and I have a lot of paintings that I wanted to hang and try to sell.” Roughly 35% of Jim’s business centers around the art gallery.
Since Jim’s business is housed within an art gallery, he hired Lisa Strout, a 3D artist, as the gallery’s manager. Jim has known Lisa for four years and has always been impressed with her ceramic work. After managing the gallery for 18 months, Lisa encouraged Jim to reach out to local artists and have them display their works alongside his own. Jim instantly took to the idea because he had long felt that Leesburg lacked sufficient gallery and studio space for the region’s burgeoning artistic community.
This past June, Jim and Lisa hosted an artist party, which officially announced Tryst Gallery to the community. About 50-60 visual artists attended, all of whom were thoroughly impressed with the space. After the party, Jim and Lisa put out an art call to over 350 artists in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland. Jim and Lisa are “medium agnostic,” meaning they do not care what type of art is submitted, so long as it is quality work and can be hung on the wall. Of the over 100 submissions they received, Jim and Lisa selected about 70 pieces for their first 60-day art show (the duo plans to host six 60-day shows each year). On Friday, August 5th, during one of Leesburg’s famous “First Fridays,” Tryst Gallery hosted its inaugural show. Over 140 people attended and the gallery sold six paintings! Some local artists burst into tears when they sold their first work. The third 60-day show, which will be called 12th Night, will debut on December 2nd.
Beyond the tears of joy and sense of community that Tryst Gallery provides for local artists, there is a strong commercial element. “The job of an art gallery is to introduce artists’ works to the buying public,” Jim explained. “The great unknown is how do you directly communicate with art buyers and get them to spend their hard-earned money on the art we display.” Unlike other galleries, Jim feels that Tryst Gallery has a bit of an advantage on this front. Its unique space is “a convergence of business, high net worth people, educational seminars and public events that, we hope, will encourage the buying community to step up in a more active way.”
Describing Lisa as “a fire-starter in her ideas,” Jim credits her with taking the mission of Tryst Gallery beyond Leesburg. Lisa is working with Visit Loudoun “to incorporate all the surrounding towns to contribute to a Virginia Artisan Trails Network.” The network will function as an agency that will promote all its members. “Its purpose,” Jim explained, will be to get “artists from across the county who work in a variety of mediums—3D, 2D, writers, culinary arts, viticulture, craft brew—together as a group and produce a map” for the Virginia Tourism Commission. Lisa will be the “Trailboss” for this project. After blushing somewhat, Lisa commented, “Art, in general, is pretty lonely work; it’s a singular effort. Very few partnerships exist.” Expounding on this fact, Jim commented, “There is a green-eyed dynamic” when it comes to artists looking around and feeling that the market can’t support them. “We want to undo that.” Lisa echoed Jim’s sentiments, “The goal is to get the community to work together and realize the benefits of collaboration. A rising tide lifts all ships.” Given its location within Leesburg’s Arts and Cultural District, Tryst Gallery has the potential to become a unique community hub where art, commerce and education intersect in a way that will benefit artists, art lovers and the local economy.
Importantly, Jim noted, Tryst Gallery is not based upon the current gallery model that most cities use. “People are used to seeing a huge open room that 300 people can be in. Everyone in the room is either facing the wall where the art is, the bar where the wine is or their friend who they came with. Tryst Gallery does not provide that sort of experience.” Instead, the gallery is uniquely intimate. Rather than being 20 feet from a piece of art, “you’re—at most—two feet away from the art at any given moment.” That creates an entirely different experience for the viewer and, frankly, for the artist. Moreover, the gallery is highly approachable, even for people who know nothing about art. Jim explained, “We speak English here, not fancy art talk. In the vast gulf between trying to display local art and what ‘experts’ say good art is, there is a fabulous amount of locally created art that the public deserves to see.”
So, what exactly is “good” art? With a big smile across his face, Jim replied, “Good art is what you like and, if you like it enough, it should go home with you.”
Tryst Gallery is located at:
312 East Market Street
Leesburg, VA 20176