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Laney Hicks paints her quiet vision of the West

By David F. SalisburyStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 16, 1982



Dubois, Wyo.

Laney Hicks is a young and talented Western artist who does not paint cowboys and Indians.

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Actually, it is not as unusual as one might think. Other forms of Western art, such as the wildlife painting in which Miss Hicks excels, have been eclipsed temporarily by the tremendous - some say faddish - interest in cowboy art that has sent prices of canvases by living artists soaring into the six-figure range.

But at least some Western art authorities argue that cowboy art has an intrinsically limited appeal and that the bottom will soon fall out of this market, making it easier for talented Western landscape and wildlife artists to gain the recognition they deserve.

Steve Cotherman, the art director at the Wyoming State Museum in Cody, ranks Laney - as she signs her work - as one of the two outstanding wildlife painters in the state.

''I expect the cowboy (and) Indian market to turn around soon. When it does, people will turn naturally to landscape and wildlife, and artists like Laney will benefit,'' the Wyoming art historian says.

In many ways, Miss Hicks's work is the antithesis of cowboy art: It is tightly focused, rather than panoramic; quiet and gentle, rather than raw and dynamic. Though representational, her watercolors have an almost Oriental balance and style. She portrays mourning doves, snowshoe rabbits, foxes, and sandhill cranes rather than grizzly bears and eagles, the standard fare of the Western wildlife school. In her best works, Miss Hicks's love of the animals she paints seems to invest the painstaking detail of her portrayals with a special glow.

''I'm a quiet painter,'' she acknowledges. ''I like balance and harmony. All my animals are healthy. I suppose it's a reaction to all the chaos and brutality in the world.''

The stillness in her work reflects her personality. She is slender and graceful; her quiet voice and steady gaze, her ready acceptance of long silences , convey an impression that she feels more at home alone in the woods and fields , and in small tete-a-tetes, than in the noise and bustle of a big city or in large gatherings. Her mother recalls a time when her daughter moved to Los Angeles for an illustrating job. She called home the day after she arrived. Job or no job, she simply couldn't stand living in the heart of such a metropolis.

This quality in her work is an asset, judges Don Pierson, owner of the El Prado Galleries in Sedona, Ariz. His gallery has grossed over $2 million in sales this year. Even if customers like a painting that portrays violence, they are less likely to buy it because they don't think they could live with it, according to Mr. Pierson. The most salable are works of art that can ''inspire people, add emotionally to their lives,'' he is convinced.

Pierson considers finding future painting ''stars'' as the most challenging and enjoyable aspect of his job. He recently selected Miss Hicks as one of 14 promising young artists to attend a workshop on successful career building.

''There is no doubt about it. (She) has talent and a potential market worth exploring. Her watercolors have a special touch,'' he says.

A Colorado native, Miss Hicks attended Denver University in the 1960s and received a bachelor of fine arts degree. ''Because the art department was totally abstract at the time, I majored in advertising and book illustration,'' she recalls. But it was not until after she graduated, while illustrating high school biology texts in Boulder, Colo., that she mastered the technical aspects of painting.