John Devlin

”If you are going to have a mental breakdown the best place to have it is in the spring and in Cambridge.”

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1954, John Devlin went on to study Theology at Cambridge University in the UK in 1979. There John suffered the first of many psychotic episodes which forced him to leave that city of medieval colleges, abandon his ambition to join the priesthood and return home after just one year.

After periods in and out of hospitals, and always longing to return to the idyllic scene of his student days, John decided to create his own utopian city through a series of sketches inspired by his nostalgia for his beloved Cambridge. These drawings, which poetically reimagine the architecture of the College buildings and surrounds, contain hidden codes, symbols and mathematical ratios which imbue the works with a profound and mystical content, deciphered and understood by only the artist himself.

Over a period of years John has reworked these drawings many times. He named this dream city Nova Cantabrigiensis, a place where the artist envisioned he would live and be happy. He can sometimes be seen walking in these pictures with his imaginary friends and a dog, their haloes making it abundantly clear that this is not the Cambridge we know, but a heavenly city of his creation.

After further hospitalization and a period in which he was unable to draw, John moved in 1989 into a group home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia where he has been ever since and where he continues to refine his visionary evocations of the imaginary cityscape in his outsider art.

Note: Hidden within the drawings that Devlin produced are cabalistic, magical designs, and number sequences that have meaning/importance to John. Most drawings are two sheet, occasionally three, and these ‘additions’ are not visible unless one separates the pages.

Chronology: exhibitions 2010-2016

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

2015, 27 March – 17 August, Prague CZ, DOX, “Art Brut Live”, exhibition of part of Collection ABCD, group show, curators: Terezie Zemánková, Ivana Brádková, Leoš Válka, catalogue

2014, 18 October – 2015, 18 January, Paris, La Maison Rouge, Collection Bruno Decharme, Art Brut / Collection ABCD, group show, curators: Bruno Decharme and Antoine de Galbert, catalogue a, catalogue b, press release

2014, 14 June – 21 September, Paris, La Maison Rouge, Art Brut et Contemporain sur Le Mur d’Antoine de Galbert, group show, curator: Antoine de Galbert, catalogue, press release

2014, 1 June, São João da Madeira, Portugal, Oliva Creative Factory, Treger-Saint Silvestre Collection, group show, curator: Christian Berst, catalogue

2014, 28 January – 1 March, Paris, Christian Berst Art Brut “Le Lointain” group show, curator: Christian Berst, catalogue

2013, 25 April – 25 May Paris, Christian Berst Art Brut “Nova Cantabrigiensis” solo show, curators: Christian Berst and Sandra Adam-Couralet, poster, catalogue

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

2010, 12-25 June, Cambridge UK, King’s Art Centre, King’s College “Dreams of Cambridge” solo show, curator: artist, poster


ABCD Collection, Paris (France), The Museum of Everything Collection, London (UK), Collection de l’Art brut, Lausanne (Switzerland), Antoine de Galbert collection, Paris (France),Treger Saint Silvestre collection, Porto (Portugal)


John Devlin
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