George W. Russell (Ae Æ), His Life, Paintings And Impact On Irish Culture

2370 words - 9 pages

George W. Russell (AE Æ),- His Life, Paintings and Impact on Irish Culture

Introduction

George William Russell (Æ), poet, painter, statesman and friend of
many. George Russell definitely was all of those things. But why is it
that I, a visiting student from the far North, takes such an interest
in a man who despite his greatness not many people outside Ireland has
heard of. When asked about visual arts in Ireland, names like Jack
Yeats, Paul Henry and James Barry might be heard but only people with
a deep interest in Irish culture will also mention George W. Russell,
or Æ as he is more commonly known. But Æ Russell was, and still is,
Irish culture, which is what I will try to prove to you with this
paper.

My first encounter with Æ Russell was when I heard about one of the
greatest love stories ever heard, the Irish legend about Deirdre and
Naisi. Æ Russell took this tale and made it into a play, the one and
only play he would ever write, published in 1901 under the name
“Deirdre”. The mythological tales has always been a keen interest to
me and to learn that Æ Russell wrote plays, poems and painted pictures
with mythological content, sure was a true excitement for me.

But to get a better understanding of what kind of man Æ Russell was
and what he had done for Irish culture I embarked on a cultural trip
around Dublin. I started off by going to the Oriel Gallery a Clare
Street to see some of his paintings. My next step was a visit to 3
Upper Ely Place (behind Saint Stephen’s Green), a place where Æ
Russell lived between 1891 and 1898 (1897) and one of two places in
Dublin where you still can see an original mural signed Æ Russell.
Sadly, a lot of his other murals on Dublin walls has been torn down,
taking an important part of cultural heritage away with it. Lastly I
visited the Mount Jerome Cemetery (Harold’s Cross) where Æ Russell is
buried. All this, together with my own strong interest in mythology,
made this cultural “journey” in Æ Russell footsteps a pure pleasure.

George “Æ” Russell, the man

George William Russell, son and one of three children of Tomas Elias
Russell & Marianne Russell (formerly Armstrong), was born in William
Street, Lurgan, County Armagh on the 10:th of April 1867. At the age
of 11, the family moved to Emorville Avenue in Dublin where in 1880
George Russell enrolled in the Art School on Kildare Street. At the
age of 16, George Russell started taking evening art classes and it
was here where he first became friends with other to-be-great Irish
artists like W.B. Yeats and John Hughes. Although George Russell
attended a number of schools up until the age of 18, moving more and
more towards the direction of visual art, he never attended university
and he seems to be mostly self-taught after his early school years.

It was in 1884 that George Russell first started taking an interest in
the mystical world and the occult, which also can be seen in his
paintings and poems. This also led up to the creation of his pseudonym
Æ....

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