state of the art 2023

state of the art 2023 – a step further

In two ways.

As I have already written, I have been taking a self-portrait every year since 1976, interrupted by years when I didn’t do it. I uploaded some of them at: state of the art. These self-portraits have been representational until now. Not accurate enough for a passport photo, but good enough so that I would be recognized on the street. And now something like this!?

It will probably be the case that one or the other reader will wonder at first glance what this is about. Or can do nothing with it at all. Should your time allow and you are interested in other perspectives, I invite you to explore this picture with me.

a step further

Why is it a self-portrait?

Obviously, it doesn’t show my physiognomy. But it portrays my inner world, especially the status quo of my level of thoughts and spirit. Both are increasingly influenced by Zen and Daoism, which of course also affects my work. Even if this is often not obvious at first glance.

some features

An important aspect of my work is the opposites. As already mentioned in many articles, the use of opposites is crucial in Taoist painting, more than that, understanding the opposing forces such as yin and yang is the master thought: Opposite, but not exclusive, but closely related, mutually dependent.

some opposites

In addition to the usual pairs of opposites, I usually try to create the widest possible spectrum of opposites and explore the limits. In this picture, that ranges from: a first glance at the work may reveal little that is appealing or pleasing. Yes, the picture seems almost clumsy, awkward, and not artistic, due to its brushwork, a beginner’s work. Only by dealing with it do the “blossoms on the thorn bush” unfold.

Other pairs of opposites are as follows: dissimilar (abstract image) :: places that are very similar (stones at the bottom right). Bright (glistening white in the center of the picture, the nothing that I’m getting closer and closer to) :: dark (in the corners, which then also suggest optical vanishing points, in an otherwise vanishing-point-free space). Brutal (in the sense of art brut) :: sensitive

Again and again, we come across places that remind us of something that seems “real” to us, but when we try to grasp it, it’s gone again, like the annoying thoughts when meditating. [1]

Another important term in Buddhism, and modified in Daoism, is “clinging”, Upādāna. We always want to hold on to something. With a painter, it is often the attachment to a form. We want to paint an object so that it is e.g. “almost real”. In this work, however, the point of “detachment” was at the center of considerations. Instead of external resemblance, the essence of what is depicted should be captured.

the composition

Also of central importance in Chinese painting is the pair of opposites kai 开:: he 合 (open :: close). Unfortunately, Western viewers usually do not pay much attention to this aspect. Here is a quite useful youtube-video on this topic.
How was this aspect implemented in the picture discussed??

composition for a step further

Kai 开: The picture expands in two ways: The light in the middle, the nothingness, suggests vastness (like when we come out of the forest and the landscape stretches out in front of us). It is also supported by the fact that there are two vanishing points at the bottom of the picture, which further expand or make the image wider. (red arrows).

He 合: The central part of the picture looks like an eye. This is called “dragon eye” in Chinese painting and I have written about it before [post]. This construction does not only have a bringing-together character. The eye also stands for our sight. And here, too, it is above all the corners on the left and right below that suggest stones in an almost realistic way and thus a ground on which we are standing. With a bit of imagination, 2 legs in trousers and boots can also be imagined to the left of the middle.

The step further

In the original picture shown above, the viewer is still a little in the shadow. Everyone may see the picture in their own way – looking at a sunny forest clearing is one option. And now imagine you go one step further – and you stand in the light. In the first version, the light was still subdued, but now it has gained strength. A step has also been taken in relation to letting go.

state of the art 2023


A few months ago I presented a design for a calligraphic character deng (wait). The publisher was very satisfied, but then I heard nothing more. A few days ago, I learned that the sign now adorns a volume of Chinese short stories. (The cover design is not mine, just the character).

book cover with calligraphy by friedrich zettl


[1] on meditation
I know that some of my readers meditate themselves and certainly, some more have tried it at some point in their lives. So you are aware of the difficulties.

You know about our thoughts that get in the way of meditating. Like a horde of monkeys, they frolic on the tables and benches in our mental upstairs room and draw our attention.

And there are other difficulties. Decades ago, when I had been meditating regularly, I knew a girl who attended courses, workshops, or retreats, read a lot about it, and gave me some recommendations. When I met her again, she had given up and said something like: “It doesn’t seem the right thing for me. I tried so hard, but I never experienced anything. I didn’t see any light, no colors, no pictures….”

Joke and koan

When I think about it today, a Zen Buddhist joke and a koan come to mind. I think these are very appropriate in this context:

Joke: A businessman appears at a Zen monastery and inquires, among other things, “How long will it take me to become enlightened?”. The master says: “10 years.” “What, so long? What if I try really hard?”. The master: “20 years”.

Koan: A novice says to his master: “Now I’ve been here for 2 years and I still don’t know what Buddha is!?” The master: “Have you washed your rice bowl yet?”

These examples fit so well because they address the difficulties of the beginner. Our mind follows an “if–then” thinking in almost every respect. This is how our world works. If I prepare diligently for an exam, then I get a good grade. Fair deal. If I work out regularly and diligently in the gym, then the pounds tumble. Fair deal.

When we meditate there is nothing. Many think like my friend and through their expectations – treats for being good or diligent – they intensify “clinging” instead of getting into the state of letting go.


55 responses to “state of the art 2023 – a step further”

  1. Edith avatar

    Es fasziniert mich, wie du dich betrachtest. Ich sehe darin auf den ersten Blick deine Aufrichtigkeit, deine Licht- und Schattenseiten, dein Davonflatternwollen, deine Beständigkeit… Ich bin tief beeindruckt und brauche wieder einmal mehr Zeit, um noch Einzelnes zu erfassen. Mir bleibt grad nur Staunen. Oh ja, ich werde mich auf Überlegungen einlassen, um dich genau zu erkennen…
    Herzlichst, ich

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Danke vielmals! Im Wesentlichen geht es dabei um das Licht. Mich genauer kennenlernen zu wollen, kann zu fruehzeitigem Ergrauen der Kopfbehaarung fuehren. Da helfen dann auch Gedichte nichts mehr….

      1. Edith avatar

        Hey, hey, wo bleibt der Optimist in dir ???? Und – ich bin ungefärbt richtig grau, lach… Tja, griins, dann sind meine Gedichte sicher noch nicht gut genug, also – weiterhin anstrengen … ❤

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        Meine Kommentare sind eh nicht ernst zu nehmen. Karl Valentin faellt mir dazu ein, denn er hat es auf den Punkt gebracht: “Gelobt seien die, die nichts zu sagen haben. Und trotzdem den Mund halten”

      3. Edith avatar

        Ich nehme dich ernst, aber gut, lach, nun halte ich meinen Mund (was mir seeeehr schwer fällt)

  2. Harshi avatar

    Very interesting! The play of colours and their perception is quite fascinating!

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! Each age has its own colours 🙂 And they have different meanings over time.

      1. Harshi avatar

        Well said! 😊👍

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        🙂 Enjoy a colorful weekend!

      3. Harshi avatar

        Wishing you the same. 😊

  3. Richard Reeve avatar

    I feel so fortunate to be able to listen in and learn from masters.

  4. Edith avatar

    Da malt sich einer aus dem Innen raus, so, wie er sich selber sieht, lässt Farben sprechen, die kein Antlitz sehen lassen und doch erkenn ich ihn.
    Kein Durcheinander blickt mich an. Gezielt, geformt lässt er sein Ich aus sich heraus und auch die Farben stimmen überein.
    Ich schau ihn an und zolle ihm Applaus.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Wow! Da zeigt sich die Meisterin des Wortes 🙂 Vielen lieben Dank fuer Dein Geburtstagsgedicht! Hab ich tatsaechlich heute 🙂

      1. Edith avatar

        Lieber, ich wünsche dir von Herzen ❤ nur das Allerallerallerbeste, vor allem Gesundheit und täglich neue Schaffenskraft ins neue Lebensjahr .Gedanklich stoße ich heut Abend mit einem Roten mit dir an. Genieße deinen Tag ❤

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        Vielen herzlichen Dank! 🙂

  5. swabby429 avatar

    Dare I say that I see phallic feathers? At least that was my first impression. Upon further pondering, I see tree trunks.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! Both are certainly true, since I tried to exhaust the principle of opposites and therefore also to put the “soft” in relation to the “hard”. It would always be tempting to do this in a more realistic, detailed way, but then there is a risk of becoming cheap.

  6. The Sicilian Storyteller avatar

    Fascinating read, Friedrich.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you so much! Not half as good as yours for sure 🙂

      1. The Sicilian Storyteller avatar

        You’re very kind, Friedrich! ☺️

  7. graham mcquade avatar

    I am playing around with some abstract sketches at the moment and can understand your processes, Friedrich. For me, the this particular image does not work ( unlike much of your other work) even though there is a strong theoretical thread. I feel it needs more cohesiveness in the forms that you have created. There are a lot of disparate shapes particularly at the bottom. Obviously this may not be the direction in which you are headed, but it is an issue I am looking at in my work so I am sensitive to it.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thanks Graham for your suggestions! I think I can understand quite well what you mean. Yes, maybe I focused too much on the subject of “light” and “nothing” as well as reducing. So I tried to omit a lot and only point to the essence. The fact that it portrays me, with my weaknesses, may also have played into it.

      1. graham mcquade avatar

        It was only my impression when looking at the final piece. Others, and perhaps you, will have different views. I have been down the same path many times, so am sensitive to it. In any event, a different view sometimes makes you look at your work differently, even if you choose to ignore it.

  8. luisa zambrotta avatar

    Such an interesting and fascinating article!

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you Lusia! Very kind to say but I am far from writing on your level. Well, I am painting….

      1. luisa zambrotta avatar

        You can paint and write very well, and I admire you very much❣️

  9. sandyroybessandbugzy avatar

    Letting go is always hard. Trusting in a higher power takes faith. The gap between these two is interesting. I enjoyed reading the explanations you gave to your expressive painting…another way…

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you for your kind words. Trust in a higher power is almost as old as mankind and different cultures have often interpreted or lived it differently. By engaging with other perspectives, we sharpen our own.

      1. sandyroybessandbugzy avatar

        How true. It takes time to engage but easier to tour. I guess time and energy can become the issue. What you give one you may be taking from the other.

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        Thanks very much! I don’t know how aware you are, but your statement has a strong Taoist touch. Enjoy your day!

      3. sandyroybessandbugzy avatar

        Taoist. Interesting word. I do try to see things from the other point of view and yes this is very new to me. I guess this is what makes looking at these art works more interesting. Have a good day.

  10. Rosaliene Bacchus avatar

    Without your elucidation, I wouldn’t have imagined this painting as a self-portrait of the artist. My initial impression was that of tree trunks in a forest setting with sunlight ahead. The second painting revealing the step into the sunlight is very impressive where forms are diffused by the brilliant light.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! There is nothing wrong with your point of view. I could have chosen a different motif to reflect my spiritual self in it. Playing with thoughts, shapes, colors, concepts is one of my favorite toys.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Gerne! Alles Gute!

  11. Saba,NiazSiddiqui avatar

    The conundrum of intricate thoughts!

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much!

  12. Edith avatar

    Deine Malerei, geprägt vom Daoismus, du machst einfach neugierig.
    Jedenfalls erscheint manches Bild sehr vertraut, mit viel Sinn, vielleicht sogar manchmal ohne Absicht?
    Ich sehe oft Freude darin – und mir wird immer wieder klar – du lebst, um zu malen, nicht andersrum.
    Dir gelingt in allen Bildern die Verwandlung zur Wirklichkeit. Und das Gute daran ist, deine Kunst lässt stets auf eine Nachfolge hoffen. Mir ist deine Kunst eine Anrufung an das Leben.
    Und manches Bild kommt einem Lied gleich. Licht fängt mich oft ein und gerade denke ich, alles muss so sein, weil du es so gemalt hast.
    Du hast sicher schon bemerkt, dass ich nicht gleich losschreiben kann, wenn ich von dir etwas betrachte. Denn immer entdecke ich noch etwas…
    Ich hoffe, meine Eindrücke sind nicht gar zu falsch,aber es ist das, was ich sehe.
    Dir ein ganz feines Wochenende
    mit Herzensgrüßen von mir zu dir.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Vielen herzlichen Dank, liebe Edith, ich weiß gar nicht, wie ich Dir für Deine freundlichen Worte danken soll, die mich erreichen, als meine Seele gerade etwas trüber verhangen ist. Soviel Lob bekam ich nicht mehr, seit ich mit 6 ein Muttertags Gedicht fehlerfrei aufsagen konnte.

      1. Edith avatar

        Es ist Lob und der Versuch, deine Bilder zu verstehen. Und bei dem Wetter grade, hier schneit es matschig, ist mir auch nicht zum Lachen. Aber ein Lächeln schenke ich dir, es soll deine Seele von allem Dunkel befreien… ❤

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        Dank nochmals, es hilft sicherlich. Sonne aus Wien – solange sie noch scheint 🙂

      3. Edith avatar

        Daaaaanke… 😀

  13. internotrentuno avatar

    So amazing your post, much to learn about here! I’m Buddhist, and I follow the Japanese school of Nichiren Daishonin, not meditation but a really good practice. 🪷

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you so much 💗! I have heard about this school and now I should try to find more information! All the best!

      1. internotrentuno avatar

        Thank you🪷

  14. VJ avatar

    I am fascinated by these pictures. I see faces in them. One eith downturned lips, another smiling with a flower between the lips. I feel like I am in a cave peering out, but it is a cozy cave where a friend who stands in the corner prepares to play their instrument. I love the scatter of stones. So much to see here in this self-portrait. Then, I read the commentary, learned new things, but was ultimately satisfied with my appreciation of your picture. It is a meditative experience.

  15. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

    Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words! I am happy to hear you enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing your point of view which is a very good one and reflects my thoughts. Sorry for my late reply!

  16. B avatar

    Beautiful pieces, thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      I thank YOU! 🌻

  17. lilacskiesandbluepoetry avatar

    You’re beautiful ♥️

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much ❤️

  18. Pkmundo avatar

    Un cordial saludo 🙏💞

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much 😊🙏☀️

      1. Pkmundo avatar


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