In 1975 I was an Art student at the University of California, Irvine. I signed up for a course called “studio problems.” There I met the Dutch-born Artist, Bas Jan Ader. Bas Jan had us each bring in works of Art we had created and we began to have discussions about them. I was surprised, how little there was to say about Art, especially “student art.” Bas Jan had us read exerpts from Hegel, and had us explore and test the boundaries of what Art was. Not just art, but Art with a capital “A.” Bas Jan once in a rare moment of openess, shared that Art was something that woke him up in the middle of the night, and the sheets were drenched with sweat, and he couldn’t go back to sleep because of the how incredible it was. He rarely showed this kind of emotionalism or passion. The two classes with Bas Jan changed my view of Art, and the world, and Life forever.

As a result of Bas Jan’s teaching, I found my performance Art vastly improved. After doing a piece, I would be walking around campus, and noticed people stopping and pointing at me, professors would look my way and smile. I started to get what Bas Jan was searching for. Art that would make a powerful, meaningful, impression on people. When Bas Jan invited me to be part of a performance he was creating for the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles, I felt like he was telling me that I had done well as one of his students. In the third photo, which is documentation of the performance, that’s me in the back row on the left. We are singing “sea shanties” along with the piano. None of us were trained singers. We were just students and acquaintances of the Artist.  A short time after this performance, he drove his 12.5 foot sail boat, the Ocean Wave, to the east coast and launched himself across the Atlantic. There was talk of how all Bas Jan would survive on was a case of Metrocal, a canned diet drink.

Later in the fall, with the start of the next semester the class all gathered to attend out next class with Bas Jan. The school administrator came and told us he had not reported in for his classes yet. We came again two days later and still there was no Bas Jan. Finally, the administration decided he was not coming back and they replaced him with another professor. Later we heard that Bas Jan had probably been lost at sea. His boat was found off the coast of Ireland, but no sign of Bas Jan was ever found. I guess when you find “the miraculous,” there is no returning to the world of “business as usual.” I think about Bas Jan from time to time. He taught me how to give everything I have to my Art and my life, or to not do it at all. In the past several years there has become a large following and a surge in interest in Bas Jan’s work and life. That was how I found my image in his photograph. It is 35 years later, and the strenght and purity of his work inspires Artists today. In my final lesson from Bas Jan and his life and death, what I learned is that you don’t have to go searching for the miraculous when it is where you are coming from…



  1. Hello Jim,
    My name is Machteld Rullens. I’m a dutch artist and very interested about your participation in Bas Jan Ader’s class. I would like to talk to you about the sea shanties you sang. Do you remember anything about that? Could you send me your email or phone number so we can have a conversation about this performance?
    Thanks so much!
    Best wishes,

  2. HI Jim,
    I’m also interested to know which sea shanties you sung. So far all I can find is ‘A life on the Ocean Wave’. I would really love to hear from you,

    • Hi Anita,

      We opened with BEAUTIFUL SEA.
      Next I believe it was A LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE.
      Then it was COME, OH COME WITH ME.
      There might have been a fourth song, which I cannot remember.
      We closed with a reprise of BEAUTIFUL SEA.

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