Keep moving, keep playing, keep dreaming (Susan O’Malley, 1976-2015)

Susan O'Malley was here

Susan O’Malley was here

Joey Piziali sends word sadly that his friend and colleague Susan O’Malley has passed away, at age 38. I wrote this about her Palo Alto Public art campaign, two years ago:

Terry and I met Susan O’Malley at an event at Palo Alto Art Center, for the closing of the group show there that featured part of her “Community Advice” project. Susan interviewed 100 Palo Altans about life and attitude and then created 10 letter press pieces, some of which hung in the gallery, some sold in the gift shop, some still available on her website and others placed all over Palo Alto, most notably or noticeably on Embarcadero near the Art Center.

As someone who has spent numerous hours placing posters and notices on surfaces protected and unprotected, I couldn’t help rescuing the piece I saw taped to a newsrack on Cali Ave some months ago. I could tell from the chop that this was the work of an artist and not just some naive well-meaning person, or superior being from outer space, trying to reach us with a message. I also pulled off of Embarcadero and rescued another of these, before I did the math and realized it was an extension of a current exhibition, which I later viewed.

But I also had my own riff. I wanted to re-purpose the one about sleeping in the RV for the sake of raising consciousness about the current debate here about a subgroup of community members who indeed sleep in their cars, or RVs. I contacted Susan’s gallery, my friend and sometime collaborator Joey Piziale and asked him to ask Susan if we could re-run a batch of these and put them up especially near the areas with car-sleepers, like off El Camino, near College Terrace. I had been invited to go to a meeting that I think is ongoing on this issue, on campus, at the Episcopal Lutheran Church on Stanford Avenue; I thought they might like to see these posters.

I also wanted to modify and maybe reproduce the one that says “Do Not Lie” and change it to “Do Not Sit-Lie” which is the legal term for when a panhandler goes beyond his First Amendment rights to aggressively solicit or beg, whilst in the stationary position, on otherwise public and free property. I still may do that — create my own set of “Do Not Sit-Lie” xeroxes, after O’Malley.

Susan did not seem mad at me for threatening such a repurposement of her hard work. Meanwhile. one of our local rags mentions that in SF Tom Ammiano is behind a statewide measure that would rescind some local sit-lie bans.

Susan’s work reminds me also of course of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer.

As a McLuhanist, I was into anything that is letterpress and tacked to a telephone poll, so retro, in this era of social media and all that. Medium is the message regardless of what the message actually says (which I thought some would think author is being ironic).

I think I have the actual poster documented on Susan’s site, on Cali Ave.

More from JP:

There has been an outpouring of love since the news of Susan’s death. Thank you to everyone for sending such heartfelt love, prayers, and condolences. It is incredible, truly incredible, to feel all the love that she inspired. As was beautifully stated by one of her friends, “the city seems to be stumbling around in a daze.” The urgent need for connectedness among all who loved her has been so profoundly touching. Now, more than ever, we look to the heart and wisdom of Susan’s words and to the power of the community she created to help guide us through this daze.

A memorial service for Susan will be held on Monday, March 9, at 11am at Villa Montalvo in Saratoga. Susan was previously an artist in residence at the Montalvo Arts Center. Villa Montalvo is located at 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga, CA 95071.
In lieu of flowers, the family hopes to set up a fund to support emerging artists and to commission a permanent installation of Susan’s work. Details are forthcoming. Her husband Tim and the family would also like to invite everyone to visit to celebrate Susan’s life by sharing stories, memories and pictures.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact the gallery at 415.550.7483 or email


I will update here with our actual correspondence.

Joey or Vanessa:
I saw some Susan O’Malley prints /broadsides on Cali Ave and had no idea what they were and “rescued” one, okay, two, and now know that what I saw was or is subtly promoting an installation or exhibit at Palo Alto Art Center and what I want to know or do — per my voice message — can we likewise promote Susan, Romer Young, the show and perhaps at same time HELP THE LOCAL HOMELESS SITUATION or RAISE CONSCIOUSNESS ABOUT RIGHTS OF THE CAR-SLEEPERS (cf “THE RV WAS A GOOD IDEA” ): I am wondering if we can synergize the discussion here, mostly takes place on Sundays at the Episcopal Lutheran church near Stanford, about art and politics and homeless by either putting a few more of the works up or making “bootleg” versions of such — can I run off on a Xerox machine “derivative” versions? Or maybe somebody can sponsor a special printing or procure copies from the actual run expressly to use as agit-prop on this issue.

I was noticing the overlap between the homeless community chatter and at least that one execution (“IT WAS A GOOD CALL TO BUY THE RV’ or whatnot) — what can we do?

Or can we commission Susan to do another execution or similar that creates dialogue on the homelessness and debate over sleeping in cars and whether or not to ban it, as is being suggested?

Mark Weiss

edit to add: It just occurred to me that I may have destroyed this installation shortly after Susan placed it, here on Cali Ave. Oops:

poignant eulogy by Christian Frock, on KQED page.

edit to add, the next day:
I spent an hour at Lytton Plaza Tuesday with three of Susan’s posters, from our collection. I was trying to make eye contact as people passed — I had done a similar exercise with a hand lettered “Do Something” sign given to me by Stanford students last fall, apropos of Ferguson, MO. I spoke to about 5 people overall and another 75 completely ignored me or averted. Granted, Susan designed these things to sit on poles or sides of news racks; it is not self-evident that having a human holder augments them. The reason I cropped this photo so closely is that by the time “Gemilla” spoke to me, I was so happy for the acknowledgement, which does not fit the overall mood of the piece:

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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