Art competition challenges people to create a small self-image

An artistic competition that involves self-portraits is likely to draw in some egotistical artists, but No Big Heads has strict rules against big art. This national art show just held its 23rd annual competition, and the turnout was as exotic as always.
No Big Heads has two simple rules to follow. One: the art must be a self-portrait. Two: it must fit within 12-inch dimensions.

The portraits varied from being outright photographs of a person to being abstract concepts that no matter how hard one looks, the piece will not look like anyone’s head. But this range from simplicity to abstractness is what has made the show so unique. The sheer diversity of the self-portraits is amazing.

“There is a wonderful sense of diversity in the work,” selected juror of the show Steven Assael said. “No one piece looks like the other. The students have a sense of commitment to their work and a strong sense of craftsmanship.”

Assael was chosen to be Alaska’s juror and was flown in from New York to give a public lecture and to do several workshops in some of UAA’s different art classes. Being a professor at the School of Visual Arts and Pratt Institute, he had a lot to teach. One of his workshops included his doing a portrait of a student while talking about different colors and their blends in painting.

He awarded a handful of people honorable mentions and such in the show, but the top prize of best of show went to Anton Kadtsin. His portrait, “Cell of my Home Place” was a more abstract piece that absolutely did not look like a head.

“It had a feeling and a sense of place and a good use of materials,” Assael said. “It makes me think of something that comes form the earth. It reminded me of how Alaska can have the long nights and also be daylight forever.”

The piece did have a stark contrast between darkness and light in it, and left a lot of room for interpretation by the beholder.
No Big Heads is not all about who won and who did not though; it is about presenting the artistic community with a unique challenge. The task of a small self-portrait sets restrictions on the creative mind and forces it to innovate and hopefully create something better from it.

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Alyssa Overby, who received an honorable mention for her “Being” piece said, “I hated [the rules] at first because it destroyed the concept I was going for. But I followed the guidelines and it turned out for the better.”

The works of art entered are self-reflective in all their own unique ways, showing the personality of each individual. One work was a sculpted head of a woman with her hair turning into snakes like a fabled gorgon. Another sculpture showed a person’s head on a fish body, complete with fins and gills.

The No Big Heads exhibition has been a yearly tradition at UAA for a long time. Any student is allowed to submit a piece, and artistic styles from all realms are accepted to encourage creativity.

One hot tip that juror Assael did leave was that the pieces came down to their ability to be presented. Hopefully in a year from now the exhibition will see even more strange and new concepts entered into the show.