At 70, Parks’ oeuvre is mind-blowingly expansive – and varied. Known amongst one sector of devotees for his provocative performance art which flourished in 70s LA, Parks roamed the city in a string bikini as a gesture of solidarity with the feminist movement, named ‘The hypocrisy of clothed men, painting naked women in Renaissance times, behind closed doors.’ Quite. In this particular performance, Bob became his own model and muse, and so it seems a fitting place to begin the consideration of a man who has lived art, doggedly, feverishly and earnestly, all his life.
‘The hypocrisy…’ was one incarnation of Parks’ alter-ego Bignose (reprised here in 2008), a character keen on rituals and prone to choreographed seizures and fits of screaming on the street, or MacDonalds, or galleries, or anywhere such an entity might wander. The distinction between Bignose and Parks himself might seem clear on paper, although it’s anything but decisive. The former was birthed from and into the latter after Parks studied Stanislavski at Lee Strasbourg Theatre Institute and Actor’s Studio, and his fusion with the pseudo-fictional version of himself allowed an expression of something greater than the sum of its parts. The argument goes, I suppose, that there is a Bignose in each of us. More than that, we are that part of ourselves which would collapse shrieking, sing at the top of our voice and tear our clothes off if only permission were granted. Bob’s onto something, and he might attribute it to his time with the Starlight Church for God in Christ, with which he became involved around 1974. It was an encounter which would profoundly colour his life and career: there erupted, and still exists, a profound and pulsating spirituality in Parks’ work, both in the ecstasy of his performance pieces, and later, in his paintings.