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 3:7, the relationship between the number of vowels and consonants in “Jesu 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.
photo | brut : collection bruno decharme et compagnie, les rencontres d’arles in collaboration with abcd and the american folk art museum (new york), les rencontres de la photographie, mécanique générale, arles, from july 1st to september 22nd, 2019.
visionary architecture, lisbon architecture triennale, works of the treger saint silvestre collection, oliva creative factory, são joão da madeira, portugal, from may 14th to june 15th, 2019.
the doors of perception, frieze art fair, henry boxer gallery, london, united kingdom, from 2nd to 5th of may, 2019.
do the write thing 2: read between the lines, christian berst art brut, paris, from april 26th to june 2nd, 2018.
drawing now, le carreau du temple, paris, from march 22th to 25th, 2018.
heterotopias : architectural dwellings, curator : matali crasset, christian berst art brut, paris, from december 2nd, 2017 to january 20th, 2018.
la maison, curator : gustavo giacosa, galerie zola cité du livre, aix-en-provence, from september 30th to december 30th, 2017.
art brut : a story of individual mythologies, oeuvres de la collection treger saint silvestre, oliva creative factory, são joão da madeira, portugal, from june 18th to february 28th, 2017.
golden ratio laws, works from the collection treger/saint silvestre, curator : antonia gaeta, oliva creative factory, são joão da madeira, portugal, from april 29th to september 30th, 2017.
sur le fil, by jean-hubert martin, christian berst art brut & jean brolly galleries, paris, from april 9th to may 22th, 2016.
a discerning eye: highlights of the henry boxer collection, curator : henry boxer, orleans house gallery, richmond, united kingdom, from november 14th, 2015 to february 7th, 2016.
architectures, curators: pascale marini-jeanneret, laurent danchin, collection de l'art brut, lausanne, switzerland, from november 13th, 2015 to april 17, 2016.
spring in cambridge: the visionary drawings of john devlin, curators : dale sheppard, art gallery of nova scotia, halifax, canada, from september 5th, 2015 to january 3rd, 2016.
soit 10 ans, états intérieurs, christian berst art brut, paris, du 12 septembre au 21 octobre 2015.
révelations, hommage des collectionneurs bruno decharme & antoine de galbert à joseph ferdinand cheval, hauterives, from april 30th to august 30th, 2015.
art brut live, curators : terezie zemánková, ivana brádková and leoš válka, dox contemporary art center, prague, czech republic, from march 27th to august 17th, 2015.
outsider art fair, henry boxer galley booth, hôtel le a, paris, 2014.
(off)icielle, christian berst art brut booth, cité de la mode et du design, paris, from october 22th to 26th, 2014.
collection bruno decharme, art brut / collection abcd, curators : bruno decharme et antoine de galbert, la maison rouge, paris, from october 18th, 2015 to january 18th, 2014.
le mur, collection antoine de galbert, la maison rouge, paris, from june 14th to september 21th, 2014.
art brut : breaking the boundaries, works from the treger-saint silvestre collection, curator : christian berst, oliva creative factory, sao joao da madeira, portugal, from june 1st to september 11th, 2014.
le lointain, christian berst art brut, paris, from january 28th to march 1st, 2014.
outsider art fair, henry boxer gallery booth, hôtel le a, paris, from october 24th to 27, 2013.
nova cantabrigiensis, curators : christian berst et sandra adam-couralet, christian berst art brut, paris, from april 25th to may 25th, 2013.
farfetched - mad science, fringe architecture and visionary engineering, curators : roger manley, tom patterson, gregg museum of art & design, raleigh, united states, from january 17th to april 26th, 2013.
er15: the resistance to change, (art fair), curators : michael mccormack, eyelevel gallery, halifax, canada, from march 2nd to au 31th, 2012.
outside inside, curators : michael mccormack, eyelevel gallery, halifax, canada, from july 5th to 16th, 2011.
dreams of cambridge, king's art centre, king's college, cambridge, united kingdom, from june 12th to 25th, 2010.
city of god, curator : richard field, dartmouth heritage museum, dartmouth, united states, from february 4th to 26th, 1996.
the first generation, curator : cliff eyland, tuns architecture, halifax, canada, from march 5th au 25th, 1993.
j.e.r devlin: drawings, curator : cliff eyland, tuns architecture, halifax, canada, fom november 16th to 25th, 1988.
exhibition catalogue, photo|brut, collection bruno decharme & compagnie, abcd and the american folk art museum, flammarion ed., paris, 2019.
exhibition catalogue, do the write thing 2: read between the lines, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2018.
exhibition catalogue, heterotopias : architectural dwellings, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2017.
exhibition catalogue, la maison, gustavo giacosa, claire margat, castlebooks, genes, 2017.
exhibition catalogue, the golden ratio laws, works from the collection treger/saint silvestre, antonia gaeta, oliva creative factory, maiadouro, maia, 2017.
billie, undercurrents in a atlantic canadian visual culture, vol.2, n°2, fall 2016, beaverbrook art gallery ed., 2016.
incandescent alphabets. psychosis and the enigma of language, annie g. rogers, karnac ed., london, 2016.
exhibition catalogue, on the wire by jean-hubert martin, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2016.
catalogue d’exposition, élévations, collections bruno decharme et antoine de galbert, hommage à joseph ferdinand cheval, text by barbara safarova, lienart ed., paris, 2015.
exhibition catalogue, soit 10 ans, états intérieurs, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2015.
exhibition catalogue, art brut, collection abcd/bruno decharme, fammarion, paris, 2014.
exhibition catalogue, le mur, oeuvres de la collection antoine de galbert, la maison rouge, paris, 2014.
exhibition catalogue, collection treger-saint silvestre, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2014.
exhibition catalogue, john devlin, nova cantabrigiensis, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2013.
exhibition catalogue, farfetched, gregg museum of art & design, north carolina state university, 2013.
painting on a curved surface, 80 stories by john devlin, gegenschein books, 2013.
"heavenly city - john devlin's utopian visions", tony thorne, in raw vision, winter 2012/2013.
john devlin. nova cantabrigiensis, island editions, 2011.
selective press review
- john devlin: nova cantabrigiensis authors linda rainaldi in cambridge university press, january 27, 2020.
- la forteresse du rêve authors philippe godin in la diagonale de l'art, july 2, 2017.
- 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.