Comic strips, fictional artists at the Carleton University Art Gallery

One show introduces you to a fictional heroine of 20th century avant-garde art in all her weird and wonderful glory, while the second turns the wall of the gallery into a comic book.

Every picture tells a story in two new shows at Carleton University Art Gallery

Artist Mathew Reichertz sets up his exhibition Garbage at the Carleton University Art Gallery. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

As a kid, Halifax artist Mathew Reichertz devoured comic books.

Today he creates his own — but on a much larger scale.

Reichertz's wall-sized paintings of vividly coloured cartoons currently wind their way through the lower level of the Carleton University Art Gallery, telling the convoluted-but-sequential story of the fallout of an abandoned couch on his Halifax neighbourhood.

"I'm turning the gallery into a comic book," says Reichertz. "People who don't read comics don't really understand how wonderful they can be.  They tell a story in a very interesting way."

Mathew Reichertz stands back to back with one of his paintings from Garbage — a new art installation at the Carleton University Art Gallery. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Reichertz is stopping in Ottawa with his touring exhibition Garbage, one of two exhibitions making their debut tonight at the university's art gallery.

The installation itself is a painstaking operation — expression bubbles must properly float above the characters' heads, and the many pieces that make up the story must be placed just so.

Halifax artist Mathew Reichertz is inspired by comic strips, which form the basis of his new Ottawa show Garbage. (Mathew Reichertz)

For the second show debuting at the gallery, Vancouver artist Carol Sawyer sifted through 20th century history, unearthing the unsung female movers-and-shakers who pushed the boundaries of modern art. 

In The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, Sawyer uses films, photographs and text to document the forgotten but influential performance artist Natalie Brettschneider, a "singer, interdisciplinary artist and fashion plate" who cavorted in European capitals during the 1920's and 30's, mingling and creating art with the Dadaists and Surrealists.

Artist Carol Sawyer takes on the persona of fictional avant-garde performance artist Natalie Brettschneider in Carol Sawyer: The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, which debuts today at Carleton University Art Gallery. (Carol Sawyer)

If the artful black and white poses of Brettschneider bare a striking resemblance to Sawyer, though, it's because she's actually an invented character — one who Sawyer has inserted into the history of avant-garde art. 

"[There was a] certain amount of frustration I felt about how women are excluded from the official canons of art history. The emphasis seemed to be on fishing key male geniuses out of messy, interdisciplinary arts movements like Dadaism and Surrealism," said Sawyer, explaining why she created her alter ego.

"I'd find these passing references to these really intriguing women artists and I'd want to know more. But it was usually very difficult to find out more."

The title of this work is "Natalie Brettschneider performs masque africain, Paris, c. 1925." (Carol Sawyer)

The opening reception for both shows takes place tonight from 5 to 7 p.m. at the gallery — and don't be surprised if the flamboyant spirit of performance artist Natalie Brettschneider makes a special appearance.

An artists' talk will take also place at the gallery on Tuesday at 7 p.m.