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Tapestries bound for art-history books - and a world of small etchings

Terrence La Noue is a name I suspect will make it into the art-history books. It already is a respected one among certain critics and a growing number of museum curators. And it has become known, through exhibitions, in such diverse places as France, Australia, Switzerland, and Iran.

He is an American painter of large, unstretched, and free-hanging tapestrylike abstract works that must be described as magical, for no other word will quite do. They are processed from a mold and then gouged, torn, incised into, and built up to create a rich textural surface and body. But what comes across most forcefully is their color: profoundly complex, generally ''hot,'' and utterly Romantic in nature.

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A number of these extraordinary works - La Noue's latest - are on view at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in SoHo. I found them beautiful, extremely sophisticated, and quite irresistible.

And for good reason, for these deeply sonorous and richly textured paintings derive their truly magical quality from the influence of the art of India, most especially the temple hangings of the Rajasthani Krishna cult, Buddhist thankas, and Indian miniatures. La Noue has also spoken of the effect the exuberant colors of India had upon his sensibilities - and thus also upon his art - during three recent trips to that country.

But while these works may be Romantic and ''magical,'' they are by no means exotic or ''foreign,'' for La Noue is a thoroughly Western and most particularly American artist. His creative identity comes from a sense of America's space, power, and effectiveness. No matter how much his large, loosely executed, and richly textured paintings may draw upon specifically foreign sources, they still remain much closer to the American spirit and painterly tradition of Pollock, Still, De Kooning, and Johns than to that of any Indian artist or craftsman. La Noue is a creative assimilator of diverse pictorial elements who uses personal impressions of foreign cultures to enhance and enrich his work, not to define it.

Above all, La Noue is an exceptional artist - and a rare one, for he is a true painter in a time when the art of painting has too often deteriorated into color-tinting or daubing. I can't help but feel that such diverse painters of the past as Delacroix, Renoir, Klimt, and Bonnard would have responded favorably to La Noue's works - though they are totally abstract. Good painting is good painting, regardless of its style or thematic point of view.

At the Nancy Hoffman Gallery through Nov. 4. Delicate etchings

Acute observation, precise delineation, gentleness of touch, and consistency of style have characterized the paintings and prints of Isabel Bishop for over 50 years. During a time when fashions in art changed, if not every four or five years, then certainly every decade or so, she has remained constant to her original commitment to the figurative tradition.

This consistency is beautifully illustrated in Associated American Artists' retrospective here of her etchings and aquatints. Ranging from 1925 to 1977, and including every print of hers to date, this exhibition should convince any remaining skeptics that prints need not be big and flashy to be good - and that Isabel Bishop is one of our better graphic artists.

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Her prints are modest in size and intimate in character, and generally depict a single seated or standing figure - or possibly two individuals engaged in conversation. Only since the 1960s has she attempted more complex compositions - mostly of groups of men and women walking - but even these remain relatively small and intimate. There is always a touch of reticence in her work. It is we who must enter her world; at no time does she push herself into ours.

This creative modesty can be deceptive, especially since we have recently become accustomed to the idea that prints should be multicolored, startling in design, and gargantuan in size. We can forgive Rembrandt and Durer for working small and in black-and-white for they, after all, worked centuries ago and knew nothing about the complex graphic processes invented since World War II. But that anyone in this day and age should still work in small scale and with only a few lines, textures, and tones, strikes some of us as a bit odd if not downright reactionary.

I would advise anyone who feels this way (and who has the opportunity to do so) to spend an hour or so at this exhibition - and to do so quietly and without preconceived notions. It should be quite a valuable experience. It certainly was for me.

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