Though abstract and "deliberately freehand," the repeated vertical bands in this painting suggest imprisonment, while the rectangle can be read as a window. Keenly aware of Surrealism's interest in unrehearsed or "automatic" gestures, Motherwell began this painting by pouring thin, dark pigment on the canvas. The Little Spanish Prison's bright palette was inspired by the artist's recent trip to Mexico, while its title refers to the Spanish Civil War (1936–39)—a subject that remained important to the artist. Motherwell painted the magenta rectangle black in the late 1940s, then revealed the original color again twenty years later. He considered this painting "the first picture in which I hit something that is deep in my character."