Could shock death of David Hockney's friend and studio assistant Dominic Elliott
cause Bridlington's most famous resident
to end domestic exile in Yorkshire?

Tragedy has brought unwanted media attention to the remote doorstep of the Pop Art pioneer

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before