Over Alumni Weekend, Mason alumnus Steve Parke came to campus to share his experiences working with music icon Prince and sign copies of his new book, Picturing Prince (Octopus Books, 2017), for an enthusiastic crowd of the Purple One’s fans.
Parke credits his time as a theater major at Mason in the 1980s as helping to equip him with skills he has used throughout his career. “Because it was smaller college at the time, I had the opportunity to do things like posters for all the events. So I got practical application of my art, which was awesome,” he says.
During his time at Mason, Parke had given up his acting aspirations, but still enjoyed working backstage. He often worked on sets for the theater production and that helped him get his foot in the door at Paisley Park, Prince’s private estate and production facility in Chanhassen, Minnesota. One of the first projects he worked on was a set for Prince’s “Glam Slam” music video.
For the next 14 years, Parke served as the on-site art director at Paisley Park, not only photographing Prince, but helping with design work. Parke designed the Graffiti Bridge album cover. He credits Prince’s management style with giving his staff the chance to grow professionally and take risks.
Parke decided to step down from the position when his son was born. “It was hard because I’d been working for Prince at this point for 14 years basically, and I realized I had a choice to make at that point.”
Parke says Prince is one of the hardest working artists he has encountered, and, when you work for someone with that kind of energy and drive, you have to be willing to work as hard as they do. In Prince’s world that involved long hours and Parke realized he wanted more time with his family.
Parke was originally opposed to doing a book, but a number of individuals he worked with over the years convinced him. Picturing Prince showcases Parke’s never-before-seen images and behind-the-scenes stories of the star.