Andre Breton portrait photo


Another topic to fill a library with 😊 But first I would like to apologize that due to a technical problem (Akismet) last week some comments unexpectedly ended up in the spam folder. All should be fine again.

Early Dreaming

Dreams have fascinated me since I was a teenager. Of course, living in Sigmund Freud’s hometown, his works [1] had a certain influence on me. But the Surrealists really turned my world around, and it first was André Breton who opened the door to this world for me. Then came the painters like Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico, etc.

What I definitely learned from Breton and Desnos is that you can learn to dream, you can cultivate dreaming, and, above all, control it to some extent. [2]

Collages by the Surrealists, therefore, were some of my earliest works. However, I then continued to work on them with pen and ink and wanted to create scenarios that were as “real” as possible. Which wasn’t really what the surrealists had in mind.

surreal collage by friedrich zettl
one of my early collages inspired by surrealists

detail early surreal collage by friedrich zettl
detail of this collage

Despite my unlimited enthusiasm, I was never completely satisfied with the representations of the dreams I came across as they are more like “photos of a dream sequence”, static snapshots. Or certain objects were placed about one another, which evoked the illusion of a dream.

In my last post, I touched on the differences in perception in different cultures [post: how we see] and have been asking myself the question for some time: “If we perceive physical objects such as paintings or sculptures differently, do we then also dream differently”? From my point of view for sure. So I started playing around a bit and here is the result.

trying sequences of dreams


I’m sure many of you know this: it’s only late afternoon, you feel a bit exhausted and you want to relax a little on the couch. You don’t want to sleep, too early for that, but as soon as you close your eyes, “fragments of dreams” run in front of your inner eye, trying to lure us into the land of dreams.
At first, I had something along the lines of Goethe in mind, maybe you know this verse from his poem “Erlkönig” [3]

‘Won’t you come with me, my fine lad?

My daughters shall wait upon you;

my daughters lead the nightly dance,

and will rock you, and dance, and sing you to sleep.’

But then I would run the risk of female viewers complaining that no handsome guys were portrayed 😊
Be that as it may, the first sheet should reflect this phase.

surreal dream dawn painting

Another attempt to catch the first phase of slipping into the dream world is as follows.

per aspera

It’s less about whether these are great works and more about a game with thoughts like how can you depict certain features of dreams generally? For me dreams very often have a strong emotional component. Something I miss in most images dealing with dreams.


surreal abstract dream

details of surreal dream by friedrich zettl

On another sheet, I tried to be less concrete and to abstract “dream events”. Sometimes when we wake up we know we had a very intense dream about something, but we can’t remember anything. Only the indefinable feeling accompanies us until we have drunk our morning coffee.

surrealistic dream painting


This picture will probably not survive. I either revise it or start over. I still want to show it because it has a funny thought behind it. Actually, I wanted to dream of “Chinese”. But “The Chinese Dream” is already occupied by the Chinese government. (Yes, of course, it’s a more or less 1:1 copy of “The American Dream“. So I dreamed a Japanese Dream.

japanese dream painting

If I continue to work on this sheet, I have to be careful not to lose the fine Japanese accent or to make it too obvious.

More of my surrealist works


[1] Especially his book: The Interpretation of Dreams from 1899

[2] Most of all Breton’s “Les vases communicants” 1932

[3] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Der Erlkönig. Full Text in English



36 responses to “dreamtellers”

  1. aparna12 avatar

    Wow. Very beautiful and fascinating. ♥️♥️♥️.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you very much!

  2. mic avatar


    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thanks a lot! 🎨

  3. ronald juliet avatar
    ronald juliet

    As usual, nice post !…Ah, dream fascination: one more thing we have in common, dear Friedrich !

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you very much, Ronald! Painters without dreams is like candy without sugar or something like that 🙂

  4. swabby429 avatar

    I read something, perhaps by Carlos Castaneda, that to dream was to dance on the edge of insanity. Certainly, the surreal can be mind expanding.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Yeah, I also think that’s from Castaneda. In some primitive societies, on the other hand, dreams can have a completely different meaning. That’s why I also think that we dream quite differently, so that dreaming also depends, for example, on socio-cultural conditions or religion.

      1. swabby429 avatar

        I’ve considered culture and belief as frameworks for our paradigm shifts, too. This is a fascinating topic.

      2. Rosaliene Bacchus avatar

        I’ve read somewhere that the symbolism in our dreams is universal.

      3. Zettl Friedrich avatar

        Oh, really? I must check this. Thank you!

  5. petrujviljoen avatar

    Why would one want to control one’s dreams? That would be suppressing the sub or unconscious which may be counter productive.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      I think Breton was less about suppressing and more about directing dreams in certain directions.

  6. Nancy Richy avatar

    All very fascinating. Dreams seem to intrigue everyone. I used to have a recurring dream: I was driving out of control down a steep hill in reverse! I’m sure a dream interpreter would have a field day with that. I haven’t had that dream in years; I wonder what caused it to stop?

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      This dream does not sound pleasant! I also had a similar one and when someone told me what it meant the dream stopped. Maybe someone can explain it to you so that it stops. Unfortunately I don’t know anything about that either.

  7. Mike U. avatar

    Brilliant and contemplative works you’ve created, Friedrich. Beyond fascinating. As someone who has battled severe insomnia for nearly 50 years, and who has dealt with major depression and PTSD, I’ve found it surprising that my dream world is mostly serene and pleasant. It’s so strange, as if sleep (when it finally comes) is a sort of divine respite for my mind. Nightmares are rare, and the only time I’ve experienced recurring nightmares was during a six-week period when my anti-depressant dosage was increased. Then, the nightmares were constant and brutal. Your paintings are incredibly dream-like and possess an oddly surrealistic ethereal beauty. It’s hard to explain, but I can recognize objects in them while being unable to identify them. 🙂 Wonderful and educational post as always, and your artwork is magical and profound.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you Mike for your kind words! I am so sorry to hear that your health is often not well and I hope it will get better!

      It is not surprising to me that you have pleasant dreams. “Divine respite for my mind” is a good expression – it doesn’t come by itself.

      The fact that you can see objects in it but can not identify them is my intention and I’ve been working on this thought for a long time. I want to paint pictures that suggest something to the viewer that she/he thinks is there. At the same time, however, there is nothing definite there that one could pin down.


    Beautiful and thought-provoking work, as always. 🙂

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you very much as always! 🙂

  9. Rosaliene Bacchus avatar

    As someone who keeps a dream journal, I find your post very fascinating. I love your dream paintings: They capture well the ephemeral and emotive nature of our dream state. The surrealist artists come very close to the depicting our dream world. I sometimes get vivid dreams that I recall on awakening and write them down before I forget. As an artist-turned-novelist, I incorporate dreams in my stories to reveal the unconscious minds of my characters.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Yes, writing down dreams as soon as you wake up is very important. Also to “cultivate” dreams.
      Your writing technique reminds me of Arthur Schnitzler, the author of the “Traumnovelle” (Dream Story) , who was a good friend of Sigmund Freud’s.

  10. Auden James avatar

    Dreams or dreaming (the activity as such) is indeed a great artistic subject matter! And as early as Homer, if we take a look—besides the visual arts—at literature too, there have been artistic depictions thereof.

    Though I’d like to point out that long before the Surrealists visual artists did already take up the subject of dreams, e.g., Nicolas Dipre’s “The Dream of Jacob” (ca. 1500) or, of course, the works of followers of Hieronymous Bosch like “Tondal’s Vision” (ca. 1550).

    Still, it’s fascinating to see how many different artistic conceptions of dreams or dreaming there are!

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you, yes, of course, and the dream in every form has occupied us since time immemorial. Zhuang Zi’s dream of the butterfly may be one of the earliest attempts to meet dream and reality on a philosophical level. I was referring to surrealism in the art historical sense, with Breton as the founder.

      1. Auden James avatar

        That’s true, of course. Thanks again for your insightful writing!

  11. Martha Kennedy avatar

    Fellini did the most wonderful things with his dreams. These are lovely and mysterious paintings. Thank you.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Yes, the filmmakers approached the subject of dreams in a completely different way. Fellini was one of the best anyway. Thank for your kind words!

    2. Auden James avatar

      I, for one, would also add David Lynch to the (short) list of directors who did truly capture the quality of dreams in their films. See, as a prime example, “Lost Highway” (1997)!

      1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

        Absolutely! “Lost Highway” is the perfect example. The film goes deeper into the “sensation of dream” than the films I had seen before.

  12. luisa zambrotta avatar

    Simply wonderful!

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      You are very kind! Thank you so much!

      1. luisa zambrotta avatar

        My pleasure 🙏🙏🙏

  13. rabirius avatar

    I really like your “dreams”.
    To me they look a bit like half forgotten dreams that somewhat linger in your mind but you cannot really remember all the details.

  14. Rupali avatar

    Fascinating, I didn’t know one can cultivate dreams. I love you collage of surrealist. It reminds me of Dickens’s novels.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you very much! Yes, Andre Breton taught me how 🙂 Happy to hear you like my collages!

  15. Belladonna avatar

    I just recently began keeping track of my dreams and I must say your post has drawn me in! GEESH this was really good!

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      That’s wonderful! I am so happy to hear that! Keep on dreaming 🙂

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