Abstraction (1948) was executed during one of De Kooning's most intense periods of creativity, the second half of the 1940's, during which he produced three major groups of abstract paintings (the Color Abstractions, Black and White Abstractions, and White with Black Abstractions) as well as his second series of Women.
The Color Abstractions of 1945-1950, of which this painting is a fully developed example, derived their many strengths from a full integration of Surrealist automatism with Cubist compositional devices. The canvases were often begun with a tracing of letters or even words, which provided a pictorial scaffolding and stimulated De Kooning toward other associations of both form and content. Shapes and strokes were abutted, juxaposed and superimposed, creating a spatial dialogue that did away with positive and negative space, making the surface into a pulsating, wholistic conception. In this example, the black paint which seems to be describing a form shifts abruptly into a line, while an area of mustard field suddenly slips into a linearity. The biomorphic shapes retain associations with natural sources, imparting what might be termed an ambiguous specificity to the painting.