De Kooning created a series of compact, rectangular compositions between the years 1957-1958. These small works were often made during the summers, when he would travel from New York City to The Springs, Long Island, and used smaller, temporary working quarters. The scale alone posed a new challenge for the artist, even though the practice of layering collage elements to create a composition was a favorite technique of his. Although de Kooning considered these compositions to be finished works within themselves, some of them he kept for himself and reviewed on occasion to influence later works.
By 1955, following a series of fifteen large and small canvases, the image of Woman began to disappear from de Kooning's work. Abstract gestures and shapes take over, and the urban and suburban landscape period begins. Nonetheless, as de Kooning told Thomas B. Hess in 1953 "The landscape is in the Woman, and there is Woman in the landscapes" (Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1968, p. 100).
De Kooning's images of Woman, unlike those of Picasso, are not linked to the identities of his many companions. De Kooning created an archetype which he pursued as an abstract motif. It is worth noting, however, that during the time in which de Kooning created Small Painting 8, he was involved in a complicated triangle of relationships with women: Elaine de Kooning, his wife; Joan Ward, the mother of his child, Lisa; and Ruth Kligman, a younger woman who had been Pollock's girlfriend at the time of his death.
There are vestiges of both Woman and Landscape in the present work, Small Painting 8. The pale, nearly flesh-colored collage elements in the foreground can appear to be either sand dunes or a reclining figure and the broad swaths of yellow paint invoke images of sunlight, blonde hair or dune grass blowing in the wind. The blue form in the upper right corner is reminiscent of the windows that dominated several of de Kooning's early works, becoming a vista of sky seen in the distance. It is a subtle and compelling composition, revealing the artist's mastery at evocative, yet distinctly non-representational abstraction.