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Beyond Brexit: Artist exposes our ‘eerie’ Border fault line

12 March 2018, The Irish Times

The ordinariness of Irish Border crossings and uncertainty of what might happen to them after Brexit attracted artist David Fox to capture them in a dozen paintings.

The 31-year-old Tullamore artist had been living in Belfast for six years and regularly crossed the Border during that time on his motorbike travelling home to Co Offaly. It planted the seed for his art project.

Except for the change in the colour of the road or signs altering from kilometres to miles or a derelict customs post, Fox always thought it hard to tell that he had traversed a border and entered another country.

“This is apparently where two states meet,” he says. “This is an international Border.”

Starting about a year ago, Fox travelled to crossings running along the 500km frontier – from Carlingford Lough in the southeast to Lough Foyle in the northwest – and photographed scenes, painting them from the images back at his studio.

“It is quite a dreary subject matter, quite eerie,” says Fox, who has a Masters in Fine Art from Ulster University and is now living in Dublin.

“The paintings highlight freedom of movement. To look at them, they are quite ordinary everyday roads. It could be like a journey leading from one town into the next. There’s no real major indication of an actual Border.”

Fox wanted to highlight the vulnerability of the Border and the communities living on and around it who will be most affected by Brexit

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union threatens to change all that. And while all parties to the Brexit negotiations have said they do not want to see customs posts or the return of a “hard border”, Fox thought it worth depicting Border crossings as mundane as they are, like any other country road.

“They are very desolate, lonely images. There are no humans in my paintings. It makes the work more interesting. There is an element of expectation in the absence of a human presence in my work,” he says.

“For the viewer, I imagine that they think something might have happened or something is about to happen. Then again the human constructs suggest that the human presence was once there.”

Fox wanted to highlight the vulnerability of the Border and the communities living on and around it who will be most affected by Brexit and the unpredictable outcomes around the UK’s departure from the EU.

“Nobody really knows what will happen. The people of Ireland, specifically the Border communities, have gone out and protested; they have protested to resist it,” he says.

“I can see in five years’ time that if a hard border was to be put in place how divisive it would be to segregate the communities. There is just so much uncertainty around it. I am trying to raise questions about it and what the future will hold. It is very hard to predict.”

Fox expects the Border to remain open because the alternative is so disastrous on many levels, including economically and socially and on the local communities.

“I don’t believe it will go ahead without a fight from the Irish people,” he says.