Having first encountered Lyndia Terre's bold, sexually aggressive drawings of nude women exhibited last year at the Midtown Gallery, one might be unprepared for the artist herself. She is, it's true, assertive, even abrupt, but where her drawings were almost threatening in their explicitness, Terre is open and confiding in a gentle, soft-spoken sort of way.

"I don't hesitate to describe myself as a feminist," says the 37-year-old artist. "It's just that saying I'm a feminist is more like an awakening that allows myself to experience the fullness of self without any roles. . . .

"Those drawings were about my feeling good about myself as a woman. They were about love, sex, affection, about things that people have between them. But all these things are just words. When they become art, they become something different -- form, color, texture . . . Ideas are just the seed of something. After that, it's all in the making. Something unintellectual takes over.

"With my new work -- it's the result of the experiences of being involved with the women's movement -- I've been able to go more toward my own goals. It's enabled me to go toward images that are totally and purely from my own childhood, my own experiences."

And therein lies the secret to Terre's newest work. Now unencumbered by feminist content, she is free to concentrate on making art for art's sake, and the strictly formal, representational elements of the drawings have evolved into an abstract, highly diversified personal iconography. "I might start with a landscape or a figure," she says, "but once that something takes over, I can no longer tell what the subjects are. The purely abstract elements tie things together."

The nudes, originally placed against fractured landscapes and ambiguous spatial divisions of the picture plane, gradually succumbed to a process of reduction and refinement until they became landscapes themselves, or simply forms arranged to occupy space to their greatest compositional advantage. At one point Terre eliminated color from her work entirely and released these forms from two dimensions, creating a series of "White Sculptures" reminiscent of the work of Jean Arp. But these were transitional explorations. Now she is doing painted cardboard, foamcore and plywood cutouts of forms developed from her drawings -- small, inchoate pieces, more like experimental toys than full-fledged sculpture.

Terre pulls out a still life she painted as a small child. In its simplicity of form and color it bears a striking resemblance to her cutouts. "Isn't that amazing!" she says delightedly, pointing to various childish scrawls around the border. She has, it seems, come full circle via her artistic explorations, the simple images she developed as a child remaining with her, becoming a kind of self-reference.

"I still do drawings and paintings from memory of my parents' house in Canada, where I grew up," she says. Displaying another small painting, she points to the Torah-shaped bay windows overlooking a lake surrounded by pines. The trees, in a much simplified form, and the shape of the windows have both been absorbed into her current lexicon of symbols.

As has often been noted, all children are artists -- the trick is to remain an artist as one grows older. Lyndia Terre appears to have succeeded.