Beginning with his seminal and highly provocative Black Paintings (1958–1960), which served as a catalyst for the development of minimalism, Stella produced art during the sixties that epitomized his famous slogan, "What you see is what you see." In the ensuing decade, however, he changed directions, further exploring and expanding the very definition of painting, and by the late seventies he had moved away from the flat surface of the canvas into the third dimension.
Stella first experimented with the infusion of real space in his Polish Village series (1970–1974), to which Pilica II belongs. His use of diverse, mostly industrial materials was also new to his art. In 1970, during recuperation from an illness, he made forty-two free-hand drawings, forty of which provided the basis for this series. Drawing upon the interpenetrating and contrasting geometrical shapes in earlier series, Stella extended his designs into actual relief constructions. The titles of the works derive from Polish synagogues that were systematically destroyed during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II (1936–1945).
Stella interpreted the space in this series as bas-relief; he created geometric planes in varying levels of relief, and incorporated diverse hues and textures in the design. He created three versions of Pilica. In The Phillips Collection work, he added bas-relief of varying levels aligned parallel to the picture plane; it is comprised of industrial materials, underscoring the idea of construction in this series—cardboard painted with commercial paint, hardboard, and particle board—as well as painted canvas, lightweight fabric, and felt. These elements were mounted onto corrugated cardboard, which was in turn mounted onto a wooden support. Pilica III also has bas-relief, but the planes, affixed to Tri-Wall cardboard, were now tilted. Stella's hues varied in each version: The Phillips Collection work is a subtle blend of red, white, and several shades of blue, combined with the natural tans and browns of the particle board and hardboard.