Arthur Cravan (born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd on May 22, 1887, Lausanne, Switzerland) was known as a pugilist, a poet, a larger-than-life character, and an idol of the Dada and Surrealism movements. He was the second son of Otho Holland Lloyd and Hélène Clara St. Clair. His brother, Otho, was born in 1885. His father's sister, Constance Mary Lloyd, was married to Irish poet Oscar Wilde. He changed his name to Cravan in 1912 in honour of his fiancée Renée Bouchet, who was born in the small village of Cravans in the department of Charente-Maritime in western France. Why he chose the name Arthur remains unclear.
Cravan was born and educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, then at an English military academy from which he was expelled after spanking a teacher. After his schooling, during World War I, he travelled throughout Europe and America using a variety of passports and documents, some of them forged. He declared no single nationality and claimed instead to be "a citizen of 20 countries".
Cravan set out to promote himself as an eccentric and an art critic, though his interest was showing off a powerful, striking personal style rather than discussing art. He staged public spectacles and stunts with himself at the centre, once acting on the front of a line of carts where he paraded his skills as a boxer and singer, although he never pursued either of these activities on stage with anyone else. His style of looking for the striking and shocking had some roots in the contemporary cult of the young man of action (athletes, soldiers, flamboyant artists) but strongly prefigured dadaism.
From 1911 to 1915 he published a critical magazine, Maintenant! ("Now!") which appeared in five issues. It was gathered together and reprinted by Eric Losfeld in 1971 as J'étais Cigare in the dadaist collection "Le Désordre". The magazine was designed to cause sensation and in a piece about the 1912 arts salon he criticized a self-portrait by Marie Laurencin, remarks which drove her lover and influential modernist critic Guillaume Apollinaire to fury and a bid for a duel. But his rough vibrant poetry, and provocative, anarchistic lectures and public appearances (often degenerating into drunken brawls) also earned him the admiration of Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, André Breton, and other young artists and intellectuals.
After the First World War began, Cravan left Paris to avoid being drafted into military service. On a stopover in the Canary Islands a boxing match was arranged between Cravan and the reigning world champion Jack Johnson to raise money for Cravan's passage to the United States. Posters for the match touted Cravan as "European champion." Johnson, who didn't know who the man was, knocked Cravan out solidly and in his autobiography noted that Cravan must have been out of training.
In retrospect, the incident has been cited as an archetypal example of the "anyone can reinvent himself" philosophy found in later artistic movements—Cravan didn't need to be a professional boxer to lay a claim on being world champion. His personal style involved continuous re-invention of his public persona, and outrageous statements and boasts. His pride in being the nephew of Oscar Wilde even produced hoaxes—documents and poems—Cravan wrote and then signed "Oscar Wilde". In 1913 he published an article in his self-edited review Maintenant claiming that his uncle was still alive and had visited him in Paris. The New York Times published the rumor, even though Cravan and Wilde never met.
After arriving in New York in 1914 where he met the poet Mina Loy, then moved on to Mexico three years later for the same reason when the United States entered the war. After their marriage in 1918 they planned a trip from Mexico to Argentina. Without enough money for both of them to book passage on the same vessel, Loy took the trip on a regular ship and Cravan set out alone on a sailboat to Argentina. Cravan never arrived and it is presumed that he capsized and drowned in a storm raging at sea in the following days.
A biographical graphic novel on the life of Arthur Cravan has been published by Dark Horse Comics. Titled Cravan and written by the company publisher, Mike Richardson, illustrated by Rick Geary, this biography puts forth the idea that Arthur Cravan and B. Traven might be one and the same.
- "Every great artist has the sense of provocation."
Arthur Cravan features as the focus for the novel Last Stop Salina Cruz (2007) by British novelist David Lalé. The novel tells the story of a young man following in the footpaths of the modernist legend across France, Spain, USA, Mexico and finally Salina Cruz.
- Review of Last Stop Salina Cruz on The Independent
- Last Stop Salina Cruz on Amazon
- Living Poets as literary inspiration on the Guardian
- "Shadow Box" by Antonia Logue (Bloomsbury paperbacks 2000) - A fictional version of the interweaving of the lives of Craven, Loy and Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world.
- The 2002 film "Cravan vs. Cravan" by Spanish director Isaki Lacuesta traces Cravan's history through reenactments featuring boxer and filmmaker Frank Nicotra.
- Arthur Cravan, Œuvres, éditions Ivrea, Paris, 1992. ISBN 2-85184-179-3
- André Breton, Anthology of Black Humor, 1940.
- Man Ray, Self-Portrait, 1963.
- Hans Richter, Dada: Kunst und Antikunst, Köln, 1964.
- Julien Levy, Memoir of an art Gallery, New York, 1977.
- Robert Motherwell, The Dada Painters and Poets, éd. Motherwell, New York, 1951.
- 4 Dada Suicides: Selected Texts of Arthur Cravan, Jacques Rigaut, Julien Torma & Jacques Vache (Anti-Classics of Dada) by Jacques Rigaut, Julien Torma, Jacques Vache, and Arthur Cravan. Roger Conover (Editor), Terry J. Hale (Editor), Paul Lenti (Editor), Iain White (Editor). (1995) Atlas Press ISBN 0-947757-74-0
- 'Nonbattles and Counterthoughts: Arthur Cravan takes Manhattan' by Dafydd Jones in 'Dada New York: New World for Old', Martin I. Gaughan (editor), volume 8 (2003) in Crisis and the Arts: The History of Dada series. ISBN 978-0-8161-7356-3.
- 'To Be or Not To Be ... Arthur Cravan' in 'Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde', Dafydd Jones (editor), volume 18 (2006) in Avant-Garde Critical Studies series. ISBN 978-90-420-1869-3.
- A new English translation of Arthur Cravan's Maintenant is being prepared for publication by Dedecus Press. Issue 1 is available in loose leaf format. Stephen McNeilly (Editor), Tomasz Stephenson (Translator), James Wilson (Translator). ISBN 978-0-9555472-4-9
- A free online English translation of Maintenant 3 is available at http://operationist.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/maintenant-a-translation/ and a translation of Maintenant 4 will be available shortly at operationist.wordpress.com.
- Carolyn Burke, Becoming Modern, The Life of Mina Loy, New York, 1996.
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- William S. Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968), 245
- Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, “Arthur Cravan and American Dada,” trans. Maria Jolas, in The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, ed. Robert Motherwell (New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., 1951), 14.
- Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, 200
- Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art, trans. David Britt (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1965), 85.
- Dictionnaire des Littératures de langue Francaise - Paris, Bordas, 1987, vol. 1, p.603
- Buffet-Picabia, “Arthur Cravan and American Dada”, 17.
- Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art, 86.
- Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, 200.
- on his disappearance in Dictionnaire des Littératures de langue Francaise - Paris, Bordas, 1987, vol. 1, p.603
- Article from Jacket Magazine about Mina Loy and Arthur Cravan by Sandeep Parmar
- Scans of Cravan's Maintenant, numbers 3 and 4.
- "Living Poetry" by Andrew Gallix
- French Wikipedia article which has fuller list of works and references
- La Cagouille 11, French Fanzine special issue on Arthur Cravan