John Devlin

Canada, 1954

John Devlin was born 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. 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 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.”

Source: Based on christian berst art brut