As consumers of the '70s have turned from booze to bean sprouts, many artists have shifted from hardedged abstraction back to a lush art focused on nature.

This is particularly true of several artists currently working in watercolor on a gigantic scale - Joseph Rafael of San Francisco foremost among them. A show of his recent work has just gone on view at the Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St NW.

Raffael, 45 was a photorealist dealing with objects before his 1969 move to California, where the landscape and nature took over as his chief preoccupations. Working in oil, he sought and captured the sparkle of light upon moving water, a subject even more suited to the possibilities of watercolor, which he took up in the early '70s.

The watercolors at Fendrick are typical, if not always first-rate, examples of this artist's work. A water lily lolls in a pond. Asian carp swim under a waterfall, splash in bubble-filled water or prowl what seems to be a subterranean sea. "I'm trying to show how it feels to be in that water as well as how it looks," says Raffael. "I want to show how nature breathes." His best works do breathe.But others, notably the "Birds in Flight," really don't get off the ground. Raffael will have to go some before he does for space what he has done for water.

He uses photographs to record the events he wants to portray, and then paints directly from the photograph, but without grid or projection. "These are not paintings about photographs, but about the memory of an event," Raffael says. In that sense, and the looseness of the brushing, they differ from the work of the pure photorealists.

Raffael has had major museum exhibitions on the West Coast but never in the East, although there is a long waiting list for his paintings in New York. The time seems to have come for a longer look at the work of this artist here. The show continues through Dec. 2.

One of the purest of the '60s minimalists, Robert Mangold, proves also to be among the most persistent in his new show at Protetch-McIntosh, 2151 P St. NW. Consisting solely of diagonal lines dividing a monochromatic canvas (sometimes two canvases) these paintings continue to make - or try to make - major events of minor ones. They remain minor indeed.

Drawn freehand, the diagonals curve imperfectly on their way to the far corners, sometimes not making it all the way. In minimal painting, to be sure, the slightest incident becomes important.But are these incidents important enough to talk about?

Stripe-painter Gene Davis thought so, and had his class from the Corcoran at the gallery this week to explain. "These paintings are no more and no less than what they are," he said, pointing out that these are intuitive works, and not the intellectual exercises they would seem to be.

"He's a cool laid-back artist," said Davis, who also added that the paintings gave him "a feeling of exultation." Though I found Davis' evaluation balanced and informative, the paintings continue to leave me cold. The show continues through Dec. 8.

But the visit proved worthwhile, however, because of some paintings by newcomer Jonathan Waite, a Detroit born. New York artist who had his first solo at Protech-McIntosh last month.Enough pieces remain on view to reveal waite's great eloquence within a post-minimal vocabulary.

Using loosely painted "images" that aren't quite recognizable, Waite manages to teeter close enough to reality to be evocative and yet far enough away to be haunting. All of this, coupled with his gripping color harmonies, makes him a new artist to watch closely.

Jem Hom, who has brought a new touch of class to 2121 P St. NW, is following his knockout Matisse show with an exhibition of prints by American sculptor Elie Nadelman. It includes example of all the prints by Nadelman available on the market.

Nadelman, whose large retrospective was seen at the Hirshhorn last year made only a few prints, most of them in 1920 while his wife, recuperating from serious illness, was confined to a room in the Hotel Gotham in New York. The artist pulled a few impressions for his own personal use - all now in the Metropolitan Museum - but the editions were never printed.

After his death in 1946, the zinc and copper etching and drypoint plates were found, and in 1952, 22 were printed posthumously by Charles B. White, who has also printed jor John Sloan. The edition were issued in 50 portfolios by New York dealer Curt Valentin.

The images are typical Nadelman, many taken directly from his sculptural images, and with the same masterful use of curving, simplifying line.

Anyone who finds magic in old things, even in things with little intrinsic value - grandfather's abandoned wooden box of nails, bits of broken glass, objects left behind by friends - will feel the poetry in Carla Rosenzweig's current show at Gallery 10,1519 connecticut Ave. NW.

With a sense of their prior use and history the artist takes these often utilitarian objects and transforms them into evocative, nostalgia-producing combinations, giving them new life which emanates at least in part from their earlier assocations.

In the simpler works, objects are simply laid out for contemplation. In the larger "Storage Pieces", however, more complex scenarios are implied. "Madonna and Carpenter" juxtaposes a cast of an elegant Florentine marble Madonna with two rough saw-horses and several two-by-fours, the humble tools of her husband Joseph.

Best of all is a tableau featuring a ladder and a shelf laden with old spools of yarn and a roll of store wrapping paper, a piece which transforms the gallery wall by conjuring up the essence of an old, treasure-filled attic.

Rosenzweig, is a Baltimore artist currently teaching at NOVA.This is her second show, and it closes Nov. 25.

Two non-art institutions continue their admirable exhibition programs this month with a major show of Washington sculptor William Calfee at the National Academy of Sciences, 2100 C. St. NW and paintings by Julian Stanczak at the International Monetary Fund, 700 19th St. NW.

The academy's show is a retrospective of more than 40 sculptures, many in bronze, thus taking up the lamentable slack left bythis city's art museums. Though familiar with Calfee's skills as an artist, most visitors to Calfee's solo shows are not likely to be aware of the breadth and variety of his work, particularly some joyous paintings in the rotunda.

Highly philosophical in its origins and intellectual in its forms - frequently referring to earlier civilizations - Calfee's art is, in the end, noble and poetic.

A catalogue has been published, and a major work purchased for the academy's growing collection, which also includes several works by the late Harry Bertoia. Bartoia's one and only sculpture show was held at the academy last year.Calfee continues through Dec., and is open Monday through Saturday, 9 to 5.

The IMF is showing characteristic works by Stanczak, combining both op and minimal elements, but warm and radiant with color.

In "Special Cools," columns of pale green grid. Elsewhere, an amorphous, almost Rothko-like yellow pulsates from behind a dark grid. Stanczak's way with space and color make his paintings hum. The show, organized by Jane Haslem, closes Wednesday and sales will benefit CAREMEDICO.

Robert Stackhouse, due for a show this month at Henri Gallery, 1500 21st NW, had to cancel because of a fire in his New York loft. His show has been replaced by the work of three new artists, a painter and two sculptors.

The painter is Jan Aronson, who makes bright highly animated pattern paintings from abstract forms based on numbers and letters of the alphabet. The surfaces are activated by the repetition of these elements which seem to move in different directions and at different velocities over the surface and into pictorial space.

Howard Hendricks from Birmingham is showing elegant executive playthings on a grand scale, while Jim Crowden of San Francisco is showing wall-hung assemblages from bits of wood and metal, all with an aged, "found" look, but actually carved and cast by him.

What is most intriguing about Gowden's works is that they seem to have important, very specific functions, but it is never clear what those functions could be. Is that a primeval strainer. A giant rat-trap? Although the work has an overall barnyard look, Growden actually lives and works on a boat parked in San Francisco Bay, which could explain his very good-natured art. Closes Dec. 7th.