Drawing on the soul

Utilizing Zen-like methods of self-development and Chi, calligraphist Izzy Pludwinski applies an age-old Japanese art to the Hebrew alphabet.

IZZY PLUDWINSKI 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy of www.impwriter.com)
(photo credit: Courtesy of www.impwriter.com)
Utilizing Zen-like methods of self-development and the concept of Chi, calligraphist Izzy Pludwinski applies an age-old Japanese art to the Hebrew alphabet Izzy Pludwinski's unusual interest in calligraphy began about 20 years ago, soon after his emigration from the US. "I was actually a chemistry teacher at the time," he says, "but I became interested in Hebrew inscription. Its intricacy fascinated me. So I retrained as a scribe, and for the next few years my main works were Torah scrolls, mezuzot and tefillin." The career change seems to have paid off. Last week he celebrated the opening of his latest Hebrew calligraphy exhibition at Jerusalem's Yakar synagogue. Pludwinksi's artistic calling coincided with a personal religious transformation. In the early Nineties, he became exposed to various Jewish texts which he had never encountered in his traditional yeshiva youth. "I began studying sections of the Talmud which provide insight into the importance of the individual and his or her specific take on things - an ideology echoed in the writings of Rav Kook," he says. "Since I had come from a traditional background, where religion is conveyed as a one-size-fits-all affair, these ideas marked a new and welcome addition to my Jewish knowledge." Coincidentally, Pludwinski's work as a librarian for the Bibliophile Association exposed him to the marvels of calligraphy at around the same time. "For me, inscribing passages from the texts I was studying provided an ideal way to channel the enthusiasm I felt for my new approach." In the ensuing years, calligraphy became Pludwinski's main focus, and he experimented with the limited and rigid calligraphic forms attributed to the Hebrew alphabet, integrating some of the flexibility associated with Latin calligraphy. "I felt that the Latin influences I incorporated enhanced my work as well as giving it an individualistic slant." In recent years Pludwinski's art has also incorporated influences of a different nature. "I'd studied Tai Chi for a long time, and a few years back I reached what you could call 'a religious crisis.' I felt that the holistic, Zen-like methods of self development encompassed in Tai Chi and other Japanese disciplines spoke to me far more than those I had encountered in my Jewish learning," he said. "The study of Jewish texts appeared to be an essentially intellectual exercise rather than appealing to the soul of a person and advancing personal growth. "In Japanese arts the concept of Chi is emphasized. This process involves becoming completely at one with yourself and letting go of any form of ego in order to develop an authentic sense of self which translates into authentic relationships with another person or discipline." Combining this spiritual form of art with Hebrew texts seemed to be a perfect way of joining the intellectual and the spiritual. Pludwinski now also incorporates ancient Japanese wisdom into his art. "When I'm working now I strive to be at one with my art," he says. The effects of this, he claims, are visible. "I have a lighter hand when I work, and this affects the nature of my art." Pludwinski has since discovered an approach to Hassidism, first advocated by Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshis'cha, Poland, two centuries ago, which he sees as similar to various elements of Japanese wisdom. "Pshis'cha actually preaches ideas such as the abandonment of ego and the development of a complete sense of transparency as vehicles to create an authentic connection with God," he explains. "I guess you could say that Pshis'cha is the Jewish philosophy I subscribe to today." Pludwinski's exhibition is on show throughout the month at Yakar synagogue on Rehov Halamed Heh 10 in Jerusalem. For viewing times, call 561-2310.