In the mid-fifties, de Kooning embarked upon an important series of drawings in charcoal and pastel which would open the way for the development of a major group of paintings known informally as his "urban landscapes." For a short period, de Kooning put aside women as his primary subject matter, transmuting and merging the female forms of his earlier work into the rhythms of New York life.
In these urban landscapes, including Gotham News (1955; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York) and Saturday Night (1956; Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis), de Kooning
further explored abstraction from the standpoint of the city tempo. The curved shapes in these paintings derive in part from collaged combinations of his pastel drawings of women, from which the artist would explore recombinations of form. Indeed, Thomas Hess has noted that if Police Gazette is turned upside down, the woman that was once part of the painting is apparent (Willem de Kooning, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1968, p. 102). Similarly, the present drawing contains only the vestigial visage of a woman in the upper left corner, the remaining tangle of limbs having transformed into a frenetic landscape vista.
According to Herman Cherry, de Kooning was fascinated by the garish colors found in contemporary tabloids (including the Police Gazette), some of which he then incorporated into these urban landscapes. ("Willem de Kooning," Art Journal 48 (Fall 1989), p. 230, in M. Prather, Willem de Kooning: Paintings, exh. cat., The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1994, p. 134). Certainly this is true in the present work, in which harsh black outlines restrain boldly contrasting areas of color. Earlier in the decade, the artist experimented with pastel in both his figural and abstract drawings as a means to play with their spatial and tonal aspects. He often built up a complex configuration of erasure and pentimenti to create space and movement in the figures; shapes were formed by the resulting light and modeling. At the end of the fifties, he would abandon color in his drawings almost altogether, preferring the monochromaticism of pencil and ink. Here, however, the colorful forms move to the very edge of the page, in anticipation of de Kooning's landscapes of the 1960s.