Swirling abstract paintings, sprawling depictions of trees, well-ordered yet highly varied screenprints and individually distinct plaster casts of women’s elbows, from young and smooth to worn and wrinkled, are part of the McLean Project for the Arts’ latest exhibit, “Taking Territory.”

The show, which is on display through June 1, features works by four female artists, all longtime printmakers, who approached exhibitions director Nancy Sausser about doing a joint show.

Barbara Kerne, who started a thriving printmaking program at Montgomery College in Rockville, contributed several abstract paintings and mixed-media works to her portion of the exhibit, “Seeking Home.”

Her works feature brilliant colors and swirling brush strokes reminiscent of Van Gogh, plus Cubist-like geometric forms. Kerne said in a statement accompanying the show that she love forests and identifies with trees.

“Nature’s resonance is cathartic for me – soothing, healing and inspiring,” her statement read.

“There’s sort of the light, atmosphere and feeling of being in a forest, very expressionistic with the marking and the brush strokes,” Sausser said of Kerne’s artworks. “There’s a little bit of the psychedelic. I love her sense of color.”

Susan Goldman’s section of the exhibit, “Squaring the Flower,” features two dozen 23-by-23-inch screenprints with variations of a floral design. The prints’ quadrants have different colors and combinations of similar elements, such as concentric rings, a flower, a spiral design and a cross-section of Rome’s iconic Pantheon.

“Basically, she’s created a vocabulary, kind of like an alphabet, that she’s working with,” Sausser said. “They’re really just masterpieces in terms of color theory and color interaction. She’s riffing on the components and the different colors.”

Patricia Underwood’s works, which share the overall show’s title of “Taking Territory,” have  a more free-flowing, organic feel. Some of Underwood’s works could be considered an homage to Japanese woodcutters, Sausser said. 

Underwood photographs old trees, including one ancient specimen in Poland, then depicts them on recycled wood veneer with the woodcut technique, plus painting and drawing, she said.

“There’s a strong environmental message that goes through these works,” Sausser said, noting that one of the trees appears to be wailing because of climate change. “She’s interested in the interconnectedness of trees, the ecosystems that are collaborative.”

Some of the most unusual works on display are by Eve Stockton. One, “The Rosie Project,” features a wall of white plaster casts of different women’s elbows, including Sausser’s (it’s under the label “Nancy”). The work branches off conceptually from J. Howard Miller’s famous World War II poster of Rosie the Riveter, which shows the bandanna-wearing worker extending her elbow and flexing her biceps.

Stockton made the casts with a medium used for making casts at dental offices and made a copy for each participant to keep, Sausser said.

Another of Stockton’s works, “FemHenge,” arranges knee and elbow casts in a manner akin to Stonehenge on a carved, colorfully painted wooden base.

Stockton, who previously was an architect, “does these incredible, complex woodcut pieces that walk along the border between nature and science,” Sausser said. “She got inspired to do this piece about the strength of women.”

All four artists all have a strong interest in nature and have advanced the craft of printmaking, Sausser said. “It’s a difficult medium,” she said. “It’s complicated and technical and takes a lot of time. You have to be dogged, determined and hard-working to be a printmaker.”

Some printmaking methods include etching (using acids to mark lines on a copper or zinc plate, then inking the plate, wiping off the excess and pressing it onto another surface, such as paper, so that only the etched areas print); woodcuts (similar to etching, only using a carved block of wood as the plate); and reliefs (in which only the painted surface, not the etched-in design, gets printed).

Printmakers have the advantage of being able to make multiple copies of their works, but often have to produce numerically limited editions to maintain the value of their works, Sausser said.

“You have to be sure you don’t do more than the amount of edition copies that you say you’re going to do, otherwise you can get into big ethical trouble in the art world,” she said. “Salvador Dalí was famous for that, printing over his editions.”

McLean Project for the Arts this summer will reoccupy its former space at the McLean Community Center. “Taking Territory” is on display at the organization’s temporary site at 1446 Chain Bridge Road. The four artists will discuss their work at the gallery on May 18 at 2 p.m.

The gallery is open Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Sundays. For more information, call (703) 790-1953 or visit www.mpaart.org.

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