John Devlin was born in 1954 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the age of 25, he left to read theology at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. There he suffered a severe breakdown, the first of a series of psychotic episodes that forced him to return to his hometown to be hospitalized. Over the course of a long convalescence, he was obsessed by the idea of reproducing the very essence of Cambridge, which he considered an ideal town.
He spent decades after that making hundreds of drawings, studies and maps of an imaginary, utopian town that he named Nova Cantabrigiensis, New Cambridge, located on an island in Nova Scotia’s Minas Basin.
His sketches recreate the buildings and ornamental gardens of the medieval town where he had planned to become a priest. All of them are coded with symbols and formulae that only he understands. “My theory,” he says, “is that for ideal design, there is an Ideal Ratio. I have been hunting for such a constant. I was on a Faustian quest, for arcane knowledge that would explain the magical ambience of Cambridge. I thought that if I could capture that ambience as a mathematical formula, then I wouldn’t have to go to England. I thought I could think my way out of mental illness back into the happy times in Cambridge … before things began to fall apart on me.” One of Devlin’s main obsessions is the ratio of 3 to 8, the relationship between the number of vowels and consonants in “Jesus Christ”; he has even marked his toenails with it. He is convinced that all objects that are not constituted according to this perfect ratio are flawed, and by correcting them, he will be able to prevent illness and death.
After a lengthy, reclusive stay at his family home, in 1989 Devlin moved into a group home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where he continues to live.
art brut : a story of individual mythologies, oeuvres de la collection Treger Saint Silvestre, Oliva Creative Factory, São João da Madeira, 18th june until 28th february 2017.
On the Wire, christian berst art brut gallery & Jean Brolly gallery, from April 9 to May 22, 2016.
2015, 14 November - 2016, 7 February, Richmond UK, Orleans House Gallery, "A Discerning Eye: Highlights of the Henry Boxer Collection", group show, curator: Henry Boxer.
2015, 13 November - 2016, 17 April, Lausanne CH, Collection de l'Art Brut, "Architectures", group show, curators: Pascale Marini-Jeanneret, Laurent Danchin, catalogue, press release.
2015, 5 September - 2016, 3 January, Halifax NS, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, "Spring in Cambridge: the Visionary Drawings of John Devlin", solo show, curator: Dale Sheppard.
Soit 10 ans, états intérieurs, gallery christian berst art brut, Paris, from September 12 to October 21, 2015
2015, 5 September - 2016, 3 January : Spring in Cambridge, The Visionary Drawings of John Devlin
2015, 14 November - 2016 : 7 February A Discerning Eye: Highlights of the Henry Boxer Collection, Orleans House Gallery, Royaume-Uni
2015, 13 November - 2016, 17 April : Architectures - Collection de l'art brut, Lausanne
2015, 27 March-17 August : "Art Brut Live", exhibition of part of Collection ABCD, group show, curators: Terezie Zemánková, Ivana Brádková, Leoš Válka, DOX, Prague CZ
2015, 5 September - 2016, 3 January : "Spring in Cambridge: the Visionary Drawings of John Devlin", solo, curator: Dale Sheppard, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax NS
2015, 14 November - 2016, 7 February : A Discerning Eye: Highlights of the Henry Boxer Collection, group, curators: Henry Boxer, Orleans House Gallery, Richmond UK
2015, fall, Lausanne CH, Collection de l'Art Brut, group, curator: Sarah Lombardi
2015, 27 March - 17 August, Art brut live, DOX Centre for contemporary art, Prague
2014, 23-26 October : Outsider Art Fair, (Henry Boxer Gallery booth), Paris
2014, 22-26 October : OFFICIELLE/Art Fair, (Christian Berst Art Brut booth), Paris
2014, 18 October - 2015, 18 January : Collection Bruno Decharme, Art Brut / Collection ABCD, group show, curators: Bruno Decharme and Antoine de Galbert, La Maison Rouge, Paris
2014, 14 June - 21 September : Art Brut et Contemporain sur Le Mur d'Antoine de Galbert, La Maison Rouge, Paris
Art brut : Breaking the boundaries, Treger-Saint Silvestre Collection, from June 1st to September 11th, 2014 curator : Christian Berst, Olivia Creative Factory, Sao Joao da Madeira, Porto
2014, 8-11 May, "Outsider Art Fair" (Henry Boxer Gallery booth), New York
2014, 28 January - 1 March : "Le Lointain" group show, curator: Christian Berst, galerie Christian Berst, Paris
2013, 24-27 October : "Outsider Art Fair" (Henry Boxer Gallery and galerie Christian Berst booths), Paris
2013, 25 April - 25 May Paris, galerie Christian Berst "Nova Cantabrigiensis" solo show, curators: Christian Berst and Sandra Adam-Couralet, poster, catalogue
2013, 31 January - 3 February , "Outsider Art Fair" (Henry Boxer Gallery booth), New York
2013, 17 January - 26 April Raleigh NC, Gregg Museum of Art & Design, NCSU "Farfetched - Mad Science, Fringe Architecture and Visionary Engineering" group show, curators: Roger Manley, Tom Patterson, catalogue
2012, 2-31 March: "ER15: The Resistance to Change" (art fair) group show, curator: Michael McCormack, poster, Eyelevel Gallery, Halifax NS
2011, 5-16 July : "Outside Inside" group show, curator: Michael McCormack, poster, Eyelevel Gallery, Halifax NS
2011, June-July : London UK, Cambridge UK and Halifax NS, tri-city launch of artist book Nova Cantabrigiensis, Island Editions, London, 2011, poster
2010, 12-25 June : "Dreams of Cambridge" solo show, curator: artist, poster, King's Art Centre, King's College, Cambridge UK
2007, December : book launch, anthology of writings and art work by mental health consumers put out by Connections Clubhouse, Looking Beyond ed. Teresa Brown, Halifax NS
1996, 4-26 February : "City of God" solo show, curator: Richard Field?, catalogue, poster, Dartmouth Heritage Museum, Dartmouth NS
1993, 5-25 March Halifax NS, TUNS Architecture "The First Generation" group show, curator: Cliff Eyland, poster
1988, 16-25 November Halifax NS, TUNS Architecture "J.E.R. Devlin: Drawings" solo show, curator: Cliff Eyland, catalogue
Billie, undercurrents in a atlantic Canadian visual culture, vol.2, n°2, fall 2016, ed. Beaverbrook art gallery, 2016.
Incandescent Alphabets. Psychosis and the Enigma of Language, Annie G. Rogers, ed. Karnac, 2016.
On the Wire, by Jean-Hubert Martin, exhibition catalogue, ed. christian berst art brut, Paris, 2016.
Soit 10 ans, états intérieurs, exhibition catalogue (09/12-10/10/2015, christian berst art brut), Paris, christian berst art brut, 2015
Under the direction of Bruno Decharme et Barbara Safarova. Art brut, collection abcd/Bruno decharme, Paris, Flammarion, 2014.
Exhibition catalogue, "Art brut collection abcd /Bruno decharme", Paris, La maison rouge, october 17 2014 - january 18 2015
Exhibition catalogue, "Le mur, oeuvres de la collection Antoine de Galbert", Paris, La maison rouge, june 14 juin - september 21 2014
Exhibition catalogue "Treger-Saint Silvestre Collection",from June 1st to September 11th, 2014,Porto, Olivia Creative Factory, Sao Joao da Madeira, ed. galerie christian berst art brut, Paris
Exhibition catalogue, "John Devlin, nova cantabrigiensis", Paris, Galerie Christian Berst art brut, april 25 - may 25 2013
Exhibition catalogue, "Farfetched", Etats-Unis, Gregg Museum of Art & Design, North Carolina State University, 2013.
Painting on a Curved Surface, 80 stories by John Devlin, Gegenschein Books, 2013.
Tony Thorne. "Heavenly city - John Devlin's utopian visions". Raw Vision, hiver 2012/2013.
John Devlin. Nova Cantabrigiensis, Island Editions, 2011.
selective press review
- Cracking Devlin's Code, basking in Bowness authors George Elliott Clarke in Halifax NS Chronicle-Herald, April 19, 2014.
- Escape to New Cambridge, a conversation with John Devlin authors Eryn Foster in Visual Arts news, April 25 2014.
- John Devlin - nova cantabrigiensis authors Philippe Godin in parisART, May 25 2013.
- John Devlin - nova cantabrigiensis authors in franceculture.fr, May 14 2013.
- exposition John Devlin authors Remy Chartier in BFM Business, May 13 2013.
- John Devlin Paris exhibition authors Andrew Spyrou in the very very very, May 13 2013.