JOHN E. R. DEVLIN DRAWINGS
[First published as a brochure for an exhibition at the Technical University of Nova Scotia Faculty of Architecture -- now called "Daltech" -- for a 15 -25 November 1988 exhibition in that institution's Exhibition Room.]
John Devlin currently lives in Hants County, Nova Scotia. He attended TUNS architecture in the mid-seventies and earned a Bachelor of Environmental Design. Later, he read theology in England at Cambridge.
In this exhibition, selected pages from Devlin's evolving letter-size stack of musings on architecture are displayed (out of a total of over 300) as tantalizing hints about a very personal and idiosyncratic body of work; work full of humour, ideas, and a bizarre sense of poetic systemizing.
Devlin is concerned in his small drawings and jottings with proportional systems, a plan for an Oxbridge campus in Hants County, Nova Scotia, and alchemical explorations. He is an 'outsider architect', or perhaps an 'outsider artist', in the tradition of Le Queue or Blake and many other very less well-known figures.
The introduction of Blake or Le Queue's name into a discussion of the work of a young architect/artist/author from Hants County , Nova Scotia may seem a little odd, but should not be considered curatorial hyperbole: there is relatively little known about outsider architects in contemporary architectural practice; indeed, the profession adheres to a definition of architecture which excludes any unregistered person from being called an architect .
Devlin has had time for 'many excursions' into personal realms of arcane and mystical investigations which grope towards a personal cosmology. Letters sent to TUNS Architecture about his upcoming exhibition speak from his contemplative Waldon Pond of Walton, Nova Scotia:
This is all tied up with my design theory: that goodness in design is the presence of ratio; and that for ideal design, there is an Ideal Ratio. I have been hunting for such a constant which would , if found, make design scientific. After many false starts, I am presently cautiously concluding that this ratio is 5:10:18 .When I gave the drawings to you they were all coded on the back with coloured dots in the ratio of 14:15, which I have said I have superseded with the new 5:10:18 The belief is that the correct ratio will aesthetify, with the quality of that ratio, each sheet, by being (invisibly) present on each...These claims are unusual: they have an odd 16th Century ring to them - the ring of alchemy and older connotations of Greek Golden Section theorists. Devlin may be doing a little time travel in these drawings.
Our thanks to John Devlin for the opportunity to exhibit his work.
Curator:Exhibitions & Resource Centre
After a lengthy illness in the early 1980's, I moved from the Halifax area to rural Hants County on the shores of the Minas Basin in the summer of 1984. And that Autumn I began to draw, after a long hiatus, on the urgings of my friends.
The themes that concerned me were picked up where I stopped drawing whilst a student at TUNS in 1976: small thumbnail sketches - plans, sections, elevations and aerial perspectives - picked out in colour. I was concerned with the problem of how to detail a 4-way junction, and also experimented with flip-flopping a given sector (1/4, or 1/5, or 1/6 or 1/8) a full 360 degrees to create both reflected and unreflected generated plans. I also dealt with the problem of 3-way bridges, and an expansion of Kings College Cambridge, the latter which I had been able to examine with some detail during a year studying theology at St. Edmund's College in the year 1979-80.
I was also interested in complex staircases, the essence of Mannerism, and a hypothetical Oxbridge city in the middle of the Minas Basin. The problem of the essence of Cambridge interested me - what was its nucleus? - if there is such a thing at all. Gibbs in the King's Fellow's Building was studied, as well as his ideas in the Radcliffe Camera at Oxford and the Cambridge Senate House.
The problem posed by the question What is architecture? continued to nag; and a neo-Kantian Aesthetic Law was formulated such that whenever a given numerical ratio was 'incarnated' in a designed thing, then the ethos of that ratio would be expressed thereby.
With time I also developed an 'organ chapel' for a hypothetical friary on Boot island, King's County. The freedom of my time in Walton allowed for many excursions.
...In the relative isolation of rural Hants county I have dredged up from within and represented the images upon paper , often in the middle of the night when I would have far rather been asleep. And then again basically these drawings are exalted doodles, away from any large urban centre, a way to pass the time and hone the representational skills.
Much thanks must go to Anthony Jackson, Allen Penney, Peter Manning and Philip McAleer who were as helpful and supportive instructors as any undergraduate could ever hope for. The defects here are mine alone.
I must add that since spring 1985 parallel with the growing sequence of drawings was another process at work: and that was the growing search for a design ratio of numbers, which, when expressed in a designed object, would create the desired effect as a factor of monumentality. I have diarized the sequence of these ratios as I have searched. The belief that the ratio is the essence of architecture, or, for that matter, any designed thing, proved very fruitful. And as the old decayed into a new reality, so too a parallel plastic discovery was made and put down as drawing. This may help to explain 'where' the drawings came from, and how I managed to maintain a fairly long sequence of terms, without breaking down, or my Muse giving up and packing up, and leaving me unable to continue.
John E.R. Devlin