Perched on the edge of a residential street overlooking Bridlington Bay, the sturdy red brick house looks more like the retirement resting place of a successful bank manager from Leeds than the home of Britain’s greatest living artist.
Yet for the past eight years David Hockney's presence in the Yorkshire seaside town has brought a much needed waft of glamour and international attention to the resort.
His monumental paintings of the rolling Wolds landscapes – first glimpsed from a moving car on Christmas visits to his mother, a long time Bridlington resident until her death in 1999 – are now as acclaimed as those sun-soaked masterpieces from his long exile in the Hollywood Hills.
But the unexplained death of his studio assistant and close friend Dominic Elliott this weekend has left the 75-year-old artist shell shocked with grief and many wondering whether it marks the beginning of the end of his association with Bridlington.
The tragedy has brought unwanted media attention to the remote doorstep of the Pop Art pioneer. Until now he could work unhindered from the house, his vast 10,000sq ft studio on the outskirts of town and of course out in the open air in the countryside he immortalised in his recent Royal Academy blockbuster show A Bigger Picture.
But despite the influx of art trail tourists, the Bradford-born artist has preferred to cut a low profile behind the grand façade of the house built in 1924 by a successful local trawlerman for his daughter and which Hockney originally bought for his mother and sister Margaret.
He now shares the space with his long term partner of 23 years John Fitzherbert, a former chef, the couple’s dogs, and a fiercely loyal and protective inner circle that until so recently included the 23-year-old Mr Elliott.
Locals have reported spotting the distinctive tweed-suited figure marching along the promenade in the early morning to buy cigarettes or treating his small team of young male assistants to breakfast at the local café – now a fish and chip shop.
Otherwise he has preferred to devote himself almost entirely to his work, travelling out into the countryside in a 4x4 driven by an aide, armed with canvas, paints, brushes, lights and cameras.
Hockney insisted when he arrived in Bridlington to be close to his family that he would be returning to his house near Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles where he retains a staff and an archive on Santa Monica Boulevard. He also has a home in London.
But even here he eschews social functions because of his deafness. “People have asked me,” he has said, “‘Isn’t it boring in Bridlington, a little isolated seaside town?’ And I say: ‘Not for us. We all think it’s very exciting, because it is in my studio and it is in my house.’”
But despite his fondness for the place, his recent failure to respond to the offer to be made a freeman of the town and to have the new Bridlington Spa art gallery named after him was met with stony silence.
Former mayor Cyril Marsburg who proposed him for the honour, admitted that he has never actually met the great man, but still felt let down by his failure to respond although he hopes he will stay. “We were disappointed by it. We were brought up to respect people and be polite,” he said.
“BBC North did a survey of the town and people thought he was rude not to respond. But I’m now told he hasn’t said yes and he hasn’t said no. He hasn’t been well recently and having the freedom of the town is the last thing on his mind,” he added.
Local artist Alan Stuttle, who owns a gallery in nearby Scarborough, was a contemporary of Hockney at the Royal College of Art where fellow students included RB Kitaj and Allen Jones.
“My heart goes out to him but I’m sure he will spring back. I think he will spend a lot more time in California from now on..
“He is very down to earth and a real Yorkshireman. But being an artist you need peace and quiet to work,” he said. “He will continue to grow – each work leads to the next. He has inspired so many people here and I know that he has the sympathy of all the art groups in Yorkshire at this time,” he added.
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