h.Art, Hereford's annual art week, made a confident start to its second year at the Left Bank last Friday.

Twenty one of the artists whose work is being shown round the county, or whose studios are open to the public, had selected work on show.

Paintings, installations, photographs and sculptures jostled for attention in a show that was high on energy and variety if inevitably short on visual or thematic unity.

The difficulties of such mixed taster shows are formidable, and much work of real quality ran a danger of being smothered by noisier neighbours.

There were a number of highlights for me: Alan Hughes' striking installation of found hub caps, arranged in an extensive grid on the floor of the largest room, seemed to arouse the most visitor comment - "I accept that it is art" a passing MP commented doubtfully, although the artist was able to assist the nervous viewer with a catalogue comment that "I have recently been pursuing a broadly circular theme in my work".


Well, I think I spotted that, but I also thought the work was interesting from both formal and narrative viewpoints, the scuffed histories of each disc suggesting possible tragedies and more mundane accidents as well as the endless identity coupled with difference of consumer objects.

The MP found Christine Hunt's bold and energetic Deluge, Floods of Hereford 2000 much more to his taste, so at 8ft x 4ft it could soon be dominating an office in Portcullis House.

Charles McCarthy's contemplative and reflective Last Supper, a 7ft long set of slender panels in oils, was an unusual departure into figurative work for a fine still life painter, with the human figures treated as a series of vessel-like faceted forms.

Unfortunately they were hung at a height convenient for a toddler, which drew attention to some of the problems of the tension wire hanging system in the Gwynne Warehouse Studio. No doubt this seemed like a good idea but it now appears both inflexible and intrusive.

Despite the sagging wires, Peter Arscott's bold and confident abstracts worked particularly well against the painted brick walls.


Fiona Morley's delicate plastic wire sculptures achieved a real sense of both solid and transparent space, although the shadows cast by the textured walls did create some visual interference.

Nick Samsworth's densely worked spiral painting might have benefited from more space, but formed a powerful, large-scale image. The spaces worked remarkably well despite low ceilings and smallish rooms - in fact restricted sightlines were often of real benefit in preventing visual overload while providing unexpected treats, like rounding the central service drum to see the flash of bright colour in Stella Hidden's acrylic abstracts.

The exhibition made plain the "wealth of visual talent we have in the county" as one organiser commented. It suggested, in its diversity, that we should use it as intended - as a guide to the impressive number of open studios and exhibitions around Hereford during this week, and as a celebration of just how important creative activity has become in the life of the county.

Richard Heatly is principal of Herefordshire College of Art and design.