The oil-on-canvas painting measures 12 by 8 feet and normally hangs about a foot off the floor. A monstrous canine, saber teeth glistening, strides across a field into the foreground, a thunderstorm is about to break, and small "Grant Woodian" cottages stand meekly in the distance. Subtly mocking, almost cartoonlike, the animal looks as if it may have just eaten someone.

Leonard Koscianski calls his creation "Nice Doggie."

"The paintings are about us, our conflicts and fears," says Koscianski, recently appointed to an assistant professorship of fine arts at the University of Maryland. "I've found Washington very inspiring in this way."

The 32-year-old artist was formerly a professor of art at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. One of his paintings, "Wild Dogs" -- named a "distinguished acquisition" for 1983 by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art -- is part of a traveling show of American art now on display at a museum in Mexico City, where his works have been well received. So well that Koscianski found "Wild Dogs" appearing on matchbooks handed out at the exhibition.

These strident, tongue-in-cheek pieces are meant to intimidate, says Koscianski, much as we often intimidate each other. A portion of his work, including some pastels and drawings, will be on display next Monday at 10 a.m. when he gives a slide show and discusses his work in the West Gallery of the Art-Sociology building at the College Park campus. CAPTION: Picture, Leonard Koscianski's "Nice Doggie." Photo Copyright (c) 1984 LEONARD KOSCIANSKI