‘It’s about encouraging collaborations: meet Charles Gurd, artist and Faculty of Fine Arts donor

Campaign for Concordia supporter to be honoured at special event on May 16
April 25, 2022
By Ian Harrison, BComm 01


By every measure, Charles Gurd — a donor to the Campaign for Concordia — has lived an extraordinary life.

The architect, painter and photographer has captured some of Montreal’s most historic homes, worked for I. M. Pei and Ray Eames, and exhibited works all over the world.

The Montreal native, who now splits his time between home studios in North America and Europe, has also donated generously to both his undergraduate alma mater, McGill — where he studied behavioral psychology and was an editor at the McGill Daily and McGill News — and Concordia, where he served as a part-time instructor in the 1980s.

“I loved the energy of the Faculty of Fine Arts,” says Gurd, who taught in the faculty for two years. “There were talented people like Susan Scott and Gabor Szilasi who helped foster this tremendous spirit there.”

With a gift to Concordia, Gurd helped provide perpetual support for a residency program for fine-arts students at the famed Vermont Studio Center — a fertile ecosystem of creativity and an important conduit to the New York art world. Further support to the Faculty of Fine Arts will be provided by a generous planned gift.

“It’s about encouraging these beneficial collaborations,” Gurd says. “When I think about the 20 years or so that I lived on Sainte-Dominique Street in Montreal, I was steeped in this vibrant community of artist neighbours — Michel Pagliaro, Leonard Cohen, Hazel Field, Morton Rosengarten, Marie Chouinard… it was an incredible community of creative people who encouraged one another to go back to their studios for even more inspired work.

“I always thought it would be a worthwhile accomplishment to help enhance that sense of community for fine-arts students at Concordia. Access to a facility like the Vermont Studio Center provides that.”

More recently, Gurd has donated hundreds of photographs to the Faculty of Fine Arts’ Visual Collections Repository (VCR) and McGill’s Visual Art Collection.

The potential of these gifts — the most recent of which included six portfolios of 127 photographs provided to the VCR a year ago — to serve as pedagogical and research tools will be acknowledged at a special event in Charles Gurd’s honour at the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art on May 16.

The event, which will include remarks from Annie Gérin, dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Michelle MacLeod, assistant curator of the Visual Arts Collection at McGill, as well as Gurd himself, is one the donor has looked forward to with anticipation.

“I'm planning to talk about my inquiry into how non-representation — abstraction — was being explored by photographers like Minor White and Aaron Siskind in the context of post-Second World War modern art.”

Photograph by Charles Gurd Ferns 1 West Coast of Vancouver Island B.C., 2012

VCR supervisor Pamela Caussy, who oversees one of the most prolific university visual arts catalogues in Canada, says that Gurd’s photographs — whether of temperate rainforest ferns, noted Cézanne muse Montagne Sainte-Victoire or bygone mansions in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile — will serve students for decades to come.

“I think the sky’s the limit in terms of how our faculty can use them,” says Caussy. “The Montreal mansions project, for one, has been fascinating from an art history and cultural perspective because it offers such a rare glimpse into a way of life that few people had access to in the city.”

Some of Gurd’s donated works — Montreal mansions included — will be on display in the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building) throughout the event and beyond. Guests will have a chance to observe and discuss the photographs with the donor and artist.

“It should be a great event,” says Gurd. “I’m very grateful that Concordia and McGill are coming together to make it happen.”

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