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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.

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Untitled (recto-verso n°278) - © christian berst — art brut
Untitled (recto-verso n°278), 1988
8.66 x 11.02 in
Untitled, n°30 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
Untitled, n°30 (both sides), 1988
8.66 x 11.02 in
Untitled, n°263 (recto-verso) - © christian berst — art brut
Untitled, n°263 (recto-verso), 1988
8.66 x 11.02 in
untitled, n°97 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°97 (both sides), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
untitled, n°103 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°103 (both sides), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
untitled, n°115 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°115 (both sides), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
untitled, n°105 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
untitled, n°105 (both sides), 1988
11.02 x 8.66 in
Untitled, n°107 (both sides) - © christian berst — art brut
Untitled, n°107 (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
In abstracto
Catalogue published to mark the exhibition *In abstracto*, christian berst art brut, Paris, 2017 - © christian berst — art brut

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

#47, Grand Palais. From October 21 to 25, 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.
View more
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.
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.
FIAC, Cité de la Mode et du Design, Paris. From October 23 to 26, 2014.
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 devlin: nova cantabrigiensis
Linda Rainaldi, Cambridge University Press. January 27, 2020.
la forteresse du rêve
Philippe Godin, La Diagonale De L’art. July 2, 2017.
Cracking Devlin’s Code, basking in Bowness
George Elliott Clarke, Halifax NS Chronicle-Herald. April 19, 2016.
Escape to New Cambridge, a conversation with John Devlin
Eryn Foster, Visual Arts News. April 25, 2014.
John Devlin - nova cantabrigiensis
Philippe Godin, ParisART. May 25, 2013.
View more
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.
Antoine de Galbert collection
collection de l’Art brut
abcd / Bruno Decharme collection
Treger Saint Silvestre collection
Carmen and Daniel Klein collection
View more
Antoine Frérot collection
John Devlin

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