National juried art competition ‘No Big Heads’ to open for 33rd year

“No Big Heads,” the Hugh McPeck gallery’s annual national self-portrait juried exhibition, is returning for its 33rd year on Oct. 18. The exhibition welcomes applicants of all ages and from all over the U.S. to submit pieces that interpret their sense of self.

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“Do I Dare Eat a Peach” by Shelsea Dodd, received Jurors Choice in 2017. Photo credit: Shelsea Dodd
“I Thought I Could Escape” by Johnathan Green, received Best in Show in 2017. Photo credit: Shelsea Dodd

“Everyone has a unique style and unique artwork that they create,” Brandon Moore, UAA alumni and marketing coordinator for Parking Services and General Support Services, said. “Some people take it very literally and do their face and some do something completely off the walls that is more metaphorical and represents who they are. I always respect people who can do both.”

The exhibition gives artists a lot of freedom of interpretation. The few criteria included no works exceeding 12 inches by 12 inches or 40 pounds, no entries that were completed over three years ago or shown in a previous UAA exhibition and a limit of two entries per person.

Aileen Page, a bachelor of fine arts pre-major focusing on drawing, took advantage of this freedom and created a piece for the competition using a technique of pressing embroidery thread into wax known as yarn painting. This is her third year submitting work to “No Big Heads,” and she expressed her gratitude for the annual exhibition.

“In a way, [art competitions] are validating that you’re on the right path. It’s an opportunity to get your work out there in a public space and possibly get recognized,” Page said. “It’s nice that they do this every year. It’s something consistent that I know I can apply for.”

“No Big Heads” is the only art competition at UAA that allows applicants from outside of Alaska. It was brought to life by Bill Sabo, a former painting professor that wanted to give students an opportunity to compete in a show with artists from outside the university. Since outside artists had to send in their submissions, Sabo proposed the pieces should remain relatively small, thus inspiring the name “No Big Heads.”

Tyler Teese, member of the Hugh McPeck Gallery management team, says that typically about a quarter of the competition’s applicants are from Anchorage, while the rest are from all over the U.S., allowing an opportunity for UAA students to get exposure to new styles and trends.

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“There’s different artists from around the country that are utilizing different styles that you might not get here,” Teese said. “It adds another perspective, which I think is beneficial to everybody.”

The grand prize of the exhibition, or Best of Show, grants the winner a $1,000 prize. A total of $1,000 in other cash awards is dispersed to other applicants at the discretion of the juror that is chosen by the gallery and the art advisory board.

This year, Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor will serve as the guest juror for the exhibition. She earned a bachelor’s in fine arts from California State University, Long Beach and a master’s in fine arts at the University of California, Davis, and currently teaches at the latter. O’Connor also specializes in animal imagery, creating life-size sculptures out of a variety of mediums, including fabric, cardboard and wood.

Having never traveled to Alaska, O’Connor saw judging “No Big Heads” as a great opportunity to explore a new state and expose herself to new art.

“It was a huge honor just to be invited to come to the university. I’ve done artist lectures across the country, but I’ve never been to Alaska before,” she said. “Just to have an opportunity to see a new part of the country and see new students and faculty who work in the arts is very exciting.”

Of the 106 submissions for this year’s competition, 64 pieces were chosen for the second round of judging. O’Connor was impressed by the variety of interpretations of a self-portrait and the level of energy put into the pieces. She encourages artists of all ages to take advantage of competitions such as this.

“For a voice outside of your professors or friend group to commend you on your work is a huge pat on the back,” O’Connor said. “Just to get your foot in the door is a really great feeling. You have nothing to lose.”


An opening reception for “No Big Heads” will take place from 5 – 7 p.m. on Oct. 18 in the Hugh McPeck Gallery. The exhibition will run until Nov. 9 and can be viewed during the gallery’s hours of 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.