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When John Devlin, born in 1954 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, left to study theology at Cambridge University, he intended to train for the priesthood, but the psychotic episodes he suffered then put an end to his vocation. His forced return home also meant he was never again to see his paradise lost.

For decades, he worked ceaselessly on his Nova Cantabrigienses, an idealised, utopian Cambridge, both a symbolic projection and a therapeutic procedure. This major work, comprising some 300 drawings, established the bases for the construction project in an iterative, highly codified mode.

Devlin’s Cambridge, surrounded by water, seems to create a fusion between the symbolic architecture of Rizzoli, for what it embodied, the conceptions of Boullée, for the philosophy they give forth, and the visions of Fourier, for their quest for harmony. Nevertheless the sequence completely avoids the spectacular aspect characteristic of these edifices, giving greater importance to a more intimate, introspective mode. The artist displays no disproportionate stylistic ambition; there is no overpowering splendour. He seeks, rather, to create a propitiatory ensemble whose every element seems to conceal an inviolable secret.

The island site evokes Devlin’s existential insularity. His Nova Cantabrigiensis becomes the harbour of a very personal monasticism that works on its author like a graphic mantra or spiritual elevator. As Sandra Adam-Couralet writes, “Devlin gives us a fiction that recognizes itself for what it is, becoming the power of representation of its own narrative.”

Exhibition view of *John Devlin, nova cantabrigiensis*, christian berst art brut, Paris, 2013 - © ©christian berst art brut, 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
John Devlin
portrait of john devlin - © christian berst — art brut

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.

John Devlin nova cantabrigiensis
John Devlin : nova cantabrigiensis - © christian berst — art brut

Preface : Sandra Adam-Couralet
Foreword : Christian Berst
Catalog published to mark the exhibition John Devlin : nova cantabrigiensis, from april 16th to may 25th, 2013.

Press review
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.
john devlin

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