Lewis began his art career as figurative painter, focusing on life in Harlem. In 1946 he announced that he wanted to create art that broke away from what he called "its stagnation in too much tradition." Inspired by the writings and art of the Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944), one of the first artists to create abstract paintings, he abandoned representation in favor of the "conceptual expression" of ideas. Like other Abstract Expressionists working in New York, Lewis was deeply interested in music, and especially jazz, which influenced the painting of Phantasy II. In an automatic process he made a linear composition with boldly colored lines and forms akin to the improvisational structure of jazz.