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John Devlin was only 25 years old when he left Canada to study theology at Cambridge and set himself on the path to priesthood. Although he adored Cambridge, he had to return and abandon his ecclesiastical dreams because of a psychotic disorder. He thus devoted his life to drawing his own Nova Cantabrigiensis, an idealized Cambridge that became both a symbolic projection and a healing protocol. Once his great work - developed in secret - was discovered in the late 1980s, he was the subject of numerous exhibitions and publications including the Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles for the iconic exhibition Photo Brut.

portrait of john devlin - © christian berst — art brut
Date 1954 —
Country Canada

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.

Please contact us to inquire about the available works.
Untitled, n°30 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
Untitled, n°30 (both sides), 1988
8.66 x 11.02 in
untitled, n°115 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°115 (both sides), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
untitled, n°274 (recto-verso) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°274 (recto-verso), 1988
8.66 x 11.02 in
untitled, n°105 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°105 (both sides), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
untitled, n°161 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°161 (both sides), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
untitled, n°228 (recto-verso) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°228 (recto-verso), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
In abstracto
Catalogue published to mark the exhibition *In abstracto*, christian berst art brut, Paris, 2017 - © christian berst — art brut

Preface : Raphaël Koenig
Foreword : Christian Berst
Catalog published to mark the exhibition In abstracto, from June 8th to July 15th, 2017.

John Devlin :
Out of a heart of quiet, Erin Stump Projects, Toronto. From July 30 to August 27, 2022.
do the write thing :
read between the lines #3, main gallery. From April 2 to May 22, 2022.
World Exhibition, 3331 Arts Chiyoda, Tokyo. From July 16 to September 5, 2021.
Drawings 16
Worlds, Parterre galerie, Berlin. From March 24 to May 23, 2021.
Making Space
with John Devlin, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Canada. From February 27 to September 26, 2021.
View more
Photo Brut
Coll. Bruno Decharme & cie, American Folk Art Museum, New York. From January 24 to June 6, 2021.
#47, cancelled. From October 21 to 25, 2020.
roots of abstract
Rathausgalerie Kunsthalle, Munich . From October 2 to November 11, 2020.
Photo Brut
coll. Bruno Decharme & cie, Rencontre d'Arles. From July 1 to September 22, 2019.
visionary architecture
oliva creative factory. From May 14 to June 15, 2019.
The doors of perception
Frieze art fair, Londres. From May 2 to 5, 2019.
do the write thing 2
read between the lines, at the gallery. From April 26 to June 2, 2018.
drawing now 2018
Carreau du Temple. From March 22 to 25, 2018.
architectural dwellings, at the gallery. From December 9, 2017 to January 20, 2018.
The House
by Gustavo Giacosa, galerie Zola, Aix-en-Provence. From September 30 to December 30, 2017.
in abstracto
at the gallery. From June 8 to July 15, 2017.
The Golden Ratio Laws
Oliva Creative Factory, Portugal. From April 29 to September 30, 2017.
Art Brut
A Story of Individual Mythologies, Treger Saint Silvestre Collection, Portugal. From January 1 to February 26, 2017.
salon des galeries et des collectionneurs engagés , carreau du temple. From December 8 to 11, 2016.
Session #3
Flatness, Backslash Gallery. From July 7 to 13, 2016.
Une partie de campagne
Chassagne Montrachet. From June 10 to 12, 2016.
On The Wire
by Jean-Hubert Martin, at the gallery. From April 9 to May 22, 2016.
A discerning eye
highlights of the Henry Boxer collection, Orleans House Gallery, UK. From November 14, 2015 to February 7, 2016.
Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne. From November 13, 2015 to April 17, 2016.
at the Gallery. From September 12 to October 10, 2015.
Spring in Cambridge
The visionary drawings of John Devlin, art gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax. From September 5, 2015 to January 3, 2016.
Art brut live
DOX centre for contemporary art, Praha. From March 27 to August 17, 2015.
cité de la mode et du design. From October 22 to 26, 2014.
Art brut
ABCD Collection / Bruno Decharme, la Maison rouge, Paris. From October 17, 2014 to January 18, 2015.
The Wall
Antoine de Galbert Collection , la Maison rouge, Paris. From June 14 to September 21, 2014.
on the horizon
at the gallery. From January 28 to March 1, 2014.
Red House
by Christian Berst , Today Art Musuem, Pékin . From October 26 to November 11, 2013.
outsider art fair
paris. From October 24 to 27, 2013.
john devlin
nova cantabrigiensis, at the gallery. From April 16 to May 25, 2013.
mad science, fringe architecture and visionary engineering, Gregg Museum of Art and Design, Raleigh. From January 17 to April 26, 2013.
the resistance to change, Eyelevel gallery, Halifax. From March 2 to 31, 2012.
Outside inside
Eelevel gallery, Halifax,. From July 5 to 16, 2011.
Dreams of Cambridge
King's Art Centre, Cambridge. From June 12 to 25, 2010.
Exhibition view of *John Devlin, nova cantabrigiensis*, christian berst art brut, Paris, 2013 - © ©christian berst art brut, christian berst — art brut
exhibition view of *visionary architecture*, lisbon architecture triennale, works of the treger saint silvestre collection, oliva creative factory, são joão da madeira, portugal, 2019. - © oliva creative factory, christian berst — art brut
Exhibition view of *John Devlin, nova cantabrigiensis*, christian berst art brut, Paris, 2013 - © ©christian berst art brut, christian berst — art brut
Press review
John Devlin626
Alex Turgeon, Border Crossings. Vol 41 No. 3. Issue 161.. March 29, 2023.
incanbescent alquadets: errant language poetics
Annie Rogers, Psychoanalytische Perspectieven - Volume 40 # 4 (October-December) 2022. October 1, 2022.
3 Halifax art world MVPs are currently starring in national exhibits
Morgan Mullin, The Coast. August 17, 2022.
Erin Stump Projects opens an exhibition of works by John Devlin curated by Kate Whiteway
Kate Whiteway, Art Daily News. August 2, 2022.
John Devlin + the search for a numerological aphrodisiac
La Rédaction, Balaclava.q. December 2, 2021.
View more
The catskills above the catskills (ptolemaic visions)
Tamas Panitz, Lila Dunlap, Caesura. October 9, 2021.
Immaculate Conceptions: Hypersexuality and Creativity in John Devlin’s Drawings
Tamas Panitz, Inspirational Magazine #53. August 30, 2021.
There’s so much cool stuff to see at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia right now
Morgan Mullin, The Coast. July 29, 2021.
John Devlin, le conceptuel de l’art brut
Philippe Godin, La Diagonale De L’art. May 9, 2021.
COVID-19 hasn’t stopped this Dartmouth artist from showing his work in Berlin, New York City and Halifax
Louise Renault, Portia Clark, CBC Listen - Information Morning. April 21, 2021.
John Devlin’s second act, from outsider to world star
Morgan Mullin, The Coast. April 17, 2021.
John Devlin
Gabriel Almeida, Caesura. March 31, 2021.
On the poetic works of John Devlin, part 3
Tamas Panitz, Caesura. January 20, 2021.
On the poetic works of John Devlin, part II
Tamas Panitz, Caesura. November 23, 2020.
On the poetic works of John Devlin, part I
Tamas Panitz, Caesura. October 12, 2020.
john devlin: nova cantabrigiensis
Linda Rainaldi, Cambridge University Press. January 27, 2020.
Habiter la terre : frontière et durabilité
Yaël Hirsch, Toute La Culture. August 6, 2019.
Escape to New Cambridge, a conversation with John Devlin
Eryn Foster, Visual Arts News. April 25, 2014.
Cracking Devlin’s Code, basking in Bowness
George Elliott Clarke, Halifax NS Chronicle-Herald. April 19, 2014.
John Devlin - nova cantabrigiensis
Philippe Godin, ParisART. May 25, 2013.
John Devlin - nova cantabrigiensis May 14, 2013.
exposition John Devlin
Remy Chartier, BFM Business. May 13, 2013.
John Devlin Paris exhibition
Andrew Spyrou, The Very Very Very. May 13, 2013.
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Musée national d’art moderne (Pompidou)
collection de l’Art brut
Carmen and Daniel Klein collection
Antoine Frérot collection
View more
abcd / Bruno Decharme collection
Treger Saint Silvestre collection
Antoine de Galbert collection
The Museum of Everything
Great Britain
John Devlin

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