Born in 1914 in Creston, B.C. Irwin Crosthwait spent the first ten years of his life in the Creston Valley before his family relocated to eastern Canada. Throughout his life he would continue to maintain his ties to the community, travelling back to visit as often as life would allow. He graduated from secondary school in Montreal and went on to Sir George William College where he studied fine arts for two years before attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to his talent as a visual artist, Crosthwait was also very interested in sports, swimming in particular. In 1936 he was selected to be part of Canada’s Olympic Team at the Berlin Olympics.
After serving briefly with the Canadian Army in the early 40’s, Crosthwait left to take on a position as a commercial artist for Henry Morgan and Company, a major department store in Montreal, a position he held until 1944 when he once again joined the war effort. This time he enlisted into the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve and was commissioned as a Lieutenant (SB), Special Branch, as a naval artist. As part of his duties he documented the daily life and important events and designed at least one Navy recruitment poster. After Crosthwait took his discharge from the Navy, he travelled to Paris enrolling as a scholarship student in the famous École Français Art Academy. At the conclusion of his studies he went on to become a noted fashion designer and artist. Working primarily for Harper’s Bazaar he also took on freelance design and graphic work for many of the top fashion magazines and newspapers from around the world. Harper’s Bazaar supported the artist and one of his editors funded his first show of abstract paintings. As his reputation grew, Crosthwait found himself designing costumes and sets for the Paris Ballet and gaining high profile commissions to document historical events like the wedding of Princess Margaret of England. During this fertile time in Paris, Crosthwait exhibited with many of the leaders of post war abstractionism. Crosthwait was described as a “painter with force, imagination, taste and individuality” and received praise from such well known artists like Picasso and Fernand.
Travelling and living in cities across the globe, Crosthwait was in many ways a restless painter moving to where the light and lifestyle inspired him. He eventually returned to live in the city of his youth, Montreal, where in 1981 he passed away at the age of 67.