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Painter Verona Peñalba inside her Greenport studio. Credit: David Benthal

This is the first in a series of northforker magazine looks into the workspaces that help shape some of the artistic work being done here. The series was written and photographed for our ‘Creativity Issue,’ now on newsstands.

From the road, Verona Peñalba’s Greenport studio doesn’t look like much more than a garage: Four white walls, a roof and two giant swinging doors. But open those doors up, and the space reveals a stand-alone art studio and gallery packed with her brightly colored paintings. From the first day she started working in the space two years ago, she felt inspired. 

“It was all empty and I just felt the spark of creation,” she said. “The light was coming in like a huge stream. I just felt like it was meant to be.” 

Peñalba is originally from Nicaragua, where her grandfather, Rodrigo Peñalba, was one the country’s most accomplished painters and established the Nicaraguan School of Arts. But she has been a nomad, living in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Miami, the British Virgin Islands and Rome, where she studied painting and figure drawing. She and her husband, who co-owns Peconic Water Sports, came to Greenport to see if a business would flourish. 

“I have always been drawn to live near the water,” said Peñalba, whose home is a short bike ride away from her studio on the corner of South and Third streets. “My lifestyle and way of living is the base of a peaceful life and the North Fork provided that plus a vicinity to one of the most amazing cities.”

Although Peñalba never got to meet her grandfather, his work influences her own. “I feel knowing about his life allowed me to be brave enough to pursue this route,” she said. “That is when my first love for portraits was born. I was surrounded by portraits of people from all members in my family [so] for me seeing paintings of people was normal.” 

Peñalba was also raised by women, which inspired her to paint the female form. “It is a celebration of the feminine energy and the power women have in their femininity, sensibility, tenderness and love,” she said. Lately, she is shifting to more abstract work, as reflected in the giant canvases in her studio, streaked with shades of blue and green. 

Women are often the subjects of Peñalba’s work. Credit: David Benthal

In smaller frames, black and white photography has been painted over to add vibrant color (a technique she employed on our cover this month). Her desk, situated in front of the window, has jars of brushes and water and a half-finished watercolor of a seagull. Powdered pigments sit on the windowsill. 

Opposite of her desk is a space for Peñalba’s daughter, Ella — a small table and chair with glue and glitter and tubes of acrylic paint. “We share our space. She has her own gallery there,” Peñalba said, pointing to the bright paintings hung on the wall. (Ella describes one picture of yellow rays coming out of a red circle as “just some random stuff” and the other as a rainbow.)

This summer, Peñalba began opening her studio doors on the weekends, “just so if people are walking by, they can come and hang out,” she said. She sells her art or chats with locals and tourists. Her daughter is the best saleswoman, pitching her and her mother’s work, naming prices from $1 to $1 million. “I love engaging with people,” Peñalba continued. “So it’s a great extension to welcome people.” 

Peñalba covered in the bright colors she likes to work with. Credit: David Benthal