Friedrich Zettl was born in Austria in 1954. In the mid-1970s he began to deal with art. Inspired by the literature of the surrealists such as André Breton and Paul Éluard, he came across the works of artists from their environment such as Jean Cocteau and Max Ernst.
In this first phase, he created oil paintings and graphics with a surrealistic touch. Impressionism and then especially Expressionism periods followed.
Since 1979 when Zettl was allowed to study art in China he has dealt intensively with Chinese art and culture, both practically and theoretically. His works have followed Eastern philosophy, with the focus on the reduction to the essentials.
Zettl started painting as an autodidact. In 1976 he began his studies in Sinology and was the first European student since the Cultural Revolution to study at the Central Art Academy in Beijing (中央美术学院 CAFA) from 1979 onwards.
He focused on Chinese painting, calligraphy, and seal cutting arts. He wrote his dissertation on one aspect of Chinese painting (freehand brush work - 写意画). Decades of intensive preoccupation with traditional Chinese theories of painting, his engagement with Buddhism and Zen Buddhism have shaped his work ever since.