By Jan Mercker

If you’ve never experienced the thrill and adventure of buying anonymous art, this weekend is your chance. Tryst Gallery in Leesburg holds its annual Friends 5×7 ArtWorks show Saturday, May 4. For just $50, art lovers can pick an unsigned small-format painting or 3D work, then flip it over for the big reveal: is it donated by a well-known artist or someone brand new to the scene?

“5×7 is really exciting. The price point makes it accessible to anyone, especially new collectors. There are a lot of people who want to just wet their toes a little bit and get into collecting,” said gallery manager Kris Loya. “For newer artists, it’s a great way to have their work at a gallery and be part of the arts community. … We’re really big on community. We love connecting people.”

When Tryst Gallery owner Jim Sisley launched the event three years ago, he was inspired by the annual “Dear Fleisher” postcard benefit show at the Fleisher Art Memorial, a nonprofit art school in Philadelphia. The event draws lines around the block every fall. Sisley, who’s also a painter, submitted work to the Fleisher show a few years ago and was hooked. “I just fell in love with the concept where artists were actively supporting this institution,” he said.

When Sisley opened Tryst in 2016, he brought the idea with him, expanding the size of work to 5×7, but maintaining the price point and the all-important concept of anonymity. The Tryst event, which benefits the Friends of Leesburg Public Arts nonprofit, also features work signed only on the back. Buyers can leave with a piece from an established regional artist whose work normally goes for thousands—or from an up-and-comer brand new to the gallery scene. Sisley encourages buyers to go with their guts—and trying to peek at the back is a definite no-no.

“We’re not going to tell you who it is. If you like the painting, buy the painting,” Sisley said.

Tryst generally offers as many as 100 pieces from artists ranging from talented teens to seniors, Sisley said. And Loya adds that the element of surprise is a big part of the fun.

“That’s one of the most exciting parts about it,” she said. “A lot of times you grab a piece and you think it’s somebody, but it turns out it’s somebody else and you get the opportunity to meet a new artist. It’s a lot of fun to see that happen–especially for a new artist. Somebody picks their piece, and they’re just thrilled.”

The show is often an ideal entree for emerging artists who haven’t had the contacts or courage to show. Sisley recalls one new artist who donated to a previous 5×7 show and was blown away by the public response to her work.

“Somebody from the public, without knowing her, came and liked her work and paid money for it,” he said. “That’s a life affirming act for an artist.”

But Sisley adds that the show also features donations from plenty of “premier artists” from Loudoun and the DMV, so there’s a good chance buyers can walk away with something valuable. The idea is to go with what you love and take it from there.

Gallery manager Kris Loya inside their Leesburg art gallery, Tryst.
[Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]
            As it moves into its fourth year, the gallery is still something of a passion project for Sisley, a well known commercial real estate broker with a passion for painting and for helping other artists succeed. Sisley started Tryst to fill the gap left by the closing of galleries like Art Square and Gallery 222. “There was a real vacuum in the arts community,” he said.

Since then several new galleries have opened downtown, including Art Sweet Art and Fine Gallery, and Sisley sees a synergy in downtown Leesburg’s rebounding arts scene.

“Consumers are more aware that there’s good and absolutely great local art and all of it is incredibly well-priced,” he said.

Sisley brought on Loya to run the gallery in 2017 after her work was featured in a summer show. Loya, who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, specializes in brightly colored watercolors that evoke the Caribbean. Loya, who has lived in Loudoun with her husband, artist Steve Loya, for the past decade, also has a marketing background, and managing the gallery is the best of both worlds.

“I really love promoting the artists and helping them climb in their careers. … Jim and I both are very passionate about that, and the 5×7 is a great platform for that,” Loya said. “We make it pretty easy, and we’re very open as a gallery.”

Tryst is also known for cleverly themed group shows that run for two months along with monthly featured artists. This month, the gallery is wrapping up a series of shows named for airport codes, with the current and final show paying homage to New York’s iconic JFK. Starting in July, Tryst will launch its latest cycle, Tryst FM, with a focus on pop music. Show themes for the full year will likely be released later this month, Loya said, and the gallery will even offer optional playlists for artists to use as inspiration.

Meanwhile, May starts off with a bang at the gallery, with the Friends 5×7 show opening Saturday on the heels of a First Friday event celebrating with the final month of the JFK group show and opening night for May’s featured artist Suzanne Lago Arthur, whose show “Bloom” is a showcase for her lush, flower-centric new still life work. One of Tryst’s requirements is that all work must be created within the last year, Loya said, so it’s a great chance for collectors to catch up on the latest from favorite artists.

“We keep things very fresh,” Loya said. “There’s always something for a collector to see and experience.”

Tryst Gallery’s First Friday opening for Suzanne Lago Arthur takes place Friday, May 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. The Friends 5×7 ArtWorks sale to benefit FOLPA takes place Saturday, May 4 from 3 to 7 p.m. Tryst Gallery is located at 312 E. Market St. in Leesburg. For more information, go to