Born in County Armagh in 1867, Russell came from a middle-class family. His father, an accountant, moved to Dublin in 1868. Russell enrolled in the Metropolitan School of Art, where he met fellow-student William Butler Yeats, with whom he developed a friendship that later veered into rivalry. Russell’s adoption of the initials “AE”, meaning Aeon, signalled his pronounced tendency towards mysticism. At art school, while he did not draw from the model, he nonetheless had a good knowledge of anatomy, and so his paintings, no matter how fanciful, are convincing. Russell was a truly visionary artist, and his paintings depict phantasms ‘waking dreams’, and visions that appeared in his mind. However he was also a practical man, who remained solidly rooted to the ground, studying economics, finance, agriculture and social improvement. Having abandoned the Metropolitan School of Art course, Russell worked for a time at Pym’s department store, before taking up employment with the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. He proved an efficient administrator, polemicist and fund-raiser, playing a leading role in establishing a nation-wide co-operative movement. He edited the IAOS’s periodicals, The Irish Homestead and The Irish Statesman. Alongside the practical articles he wrote for these publications, he also contributed to The Irish Theosophist, and, assisted by W. B. Yeats, decorated the headquarters of the Theosophical Society on Ely Place with large canvases depicting spirits and faeries in Irish landscapes. After 1920, when Ireland’s political landscape was being radically altered, Russell proved himself able to adapt to the new circumstances, combining in his writings and paintings elements of the modern world. His 1922 novel, The Interpreters, looks back to the 1916 Rising, and reveals his socialist and idealist worldview, while his 1933 novel The Avatars, is a futurist fantasy. After 1915 Russell discontinued exhibiting in Ireland, although his work continued to be shown in the United States up to the time of his death, in England, in 1935.
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