Sea Goddess Hears the Lost Language of Paradise

A performance of Frederic Chopin’s Ballade 3 in Ab minor Opus 47 by Krystian Zimerman


The whole project of doing this painting began at the Chicago Art Institute. I was visiting the museum with my friend and mentor, Browne Goodwin. We were looking at batik textiles from Indonesia. I saw one that had an entirely ordinary pattern surrounding an intense swath of greenish blue ocean with foam or clouds in it, right where the fabric would encircle the chest. The museum panel next to the fabric described the design as a devotion to a sea goddess. Here’s what I saw at the museum, but the color of green isn’t true to life – it was a color I don’t have a name for:

I decided that I wanted to make a Sea Goddess painting linked to this textile – after all, tributes to Sea Goddesses clearly have survived their makers. This was a rare circumstance where I had the idea for the painting and picked music for that purpose. I knew that one of Chopin’s Ballades was linked with the story of Undine, water elementals who come to humans and interact with them out of the water, sometimes as wanted children to couples that have none, and other times, as partners in love. There are stories in particular where a character named Undine, or Ondine, rises from the water and falls in love with a human man.
As I collected all of the threads together to create this painting, I was reading about the invention of an ocular harpsichord in the 1700s by the mathematician Louis Bertrand Castel. Castel believed that color was the “lost language of paradise,” a language that could be understood by everyone, including importantly, people who could not hear music through the ear due to deafness.
This painting depicts a section of Chopin’s Ballade where I envision Undine first rising out of the water.
I learned that in Bali, floral offerings are sent out to the ocean to honor sea goddesses. The center of this painting contains the colors of floral offerings to Undine.