Cay Bahnmiller RIP

My Way (1940)

One goes in straightforward ways,
One in a circle roams:
Waits for a girl of his gone days,
Or for returning home.

But I do go — and woe is there —
By a way nor straight, nor broad,
But into never and nowhere,
Like trains — off the railroad.

–Anna Akhmatova

Tonight I heard my friend Cay was dead. Its hard to describe how her absence will be felt. She was an artist I admired, loved and wanted to document. She drew the observer into her world and the poetic, literate dreams she wanted to construct.

Cay had a passion for the city of Detroit, and maybe it was the city that partly destroyed her. She might have been more at ease in an artist garret in Europe or South America, but Detroit fed her energy. She loved the crazy cursing parrots of Bird City, the flamboyant trans-sexuals in the trawling bars along Cass Avenue, the burning sulfur and graffiti lined walls of downriver. The broken buildings, industrial bridges and scraps of rubbish in the streets and abandoned junkyards inspired and consumed her.

Detroit was at the center of her mind, and its rusted refuse became the palette for the compacted collages and found sculpture she created. Cay was among the best artists in the Cass corridor, even as she arrived at the end of its glory days. She daily roamed the neighborhoods and streets with a sharpened eye, an ability to see inside the city’s ripped and broken insides. She painted and worked like a soldier in battle. At odds to this workshop intensity was a generous, soft and compassionate spirit. She gave her spirit completely, always supportive to those she loved. Detroit is often ignorant and apathetic to its artistic-supporters. It is a silent, stubborn and rusting Moloch, and does not mourn or return the love of its caretakers.

Her voice and postures could often be harsh, edgy, nearly impossible to deal with. But that was a sickness within Cay talking, a violence and combative nature she lived with and that finally consumed her. She tested people’s loyalty and patience. She was a fascinating, generous, brilliant, witty and energetic person. Her phone conversations and letters were fascinating and highly detailed. She could talk endlessly on art, books, nature, philosophy or illness and loved to gossip. She’d  develop ideas in brilliant flashes and sabotage them. Cay seemed to exist in another time, a more meaningful and deeper reality highly connected with past and that was lived out in emotional storms and symbols.

In Cay’s heart she was a romantic poet, foot soldier and artist, fighting poverty, mediocrity and politics -out on the front-lines smashing the state. A unique revolutionary thinker with a defiant and brave morality, she fought for and sympathized with the underdog, the bums outside her door and the soldiers in Iraq. The Russian Odessa poet Akhmatova was her heroine and adopted model. She took on the poetess signature hair cut,  shortly bobbed with straight short bangs, her aristocratic bearing and dark mythology. Cay’s fascination with decadence, personal history and self-criticism was mixed with inner feelings of censorship and neglect.

Cay’s death was not surprising. She spoke of death often, inventing various cancers, broken bones and rare blood diseases. Extremity and death hung around her and fed the work, it was something you got used to. These cries for help held a core of truth: that Cay was in real pain. This was pain that shared transference in her mind with the city’s own wounds. Detroit was Cay’s personal Leningrad, Fallujah and Gulag, a city that both inspired creativity and constrained it. Many of her friends could see that pain, and tried to help, but Cay needed a breakthrough to help herself.

I feel the future will be kinder to Cay, as it was to the poet Akhmatova. There was much beauty and insight she had to offer, much that was overlooked, and more we can honor and learn from her life. My sincere condolences to her friends and family. We will miss you and pray that your journey now is safer and less troubled than before. Sweet dreams Cay.

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3 comments on “Cay Bahnmiller RIP
  1. It is such a shame that the energy,thoughtfulness and talent of this fine artist has not been more recognized. Although I believe it will come to be recognized in time.

  2. i knew cay all my life she was a first cousin .she loved, she laughed , she cried.
    but she was the most real person i ever knew. i love and miss her greatly

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