A young assistant to David Hockney died after drinking acid at the artist’s seaside home at the end of a day of drug-taking, an inquest heard today.
Dominic Elliott, 23, a keen rugby and hockey player, took cocaine, ecstasy and the sleeping pill Temazepam before drinking the liquid that burned his mouth, tongue and throat before perforating his stomach, the inquest was told.
The celebrated artist, who was recovering from a minor stroke, had been asleep at his home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, when he was woken in the morning to be told that Mr Elliott had died.
The Bradford-born artist has said that he stopped working for a period after the death of Mr Elliott, one of Mr Hockney’s assistants based at the house, and whom he had known for a decade. Mr Elliott had sat for a number of portraits including a sketch completed two months before he died.
Mr Hockney said in a statement that he came downstairs at the five-bedroom house at midnight to make a cup of tea where he met his former long-term partner, John Fitzherbert, and his chief assistant Jean Pierre De Lima but nothing appeared to be amiss.
Mr Fitzherbert, who had been in relationship with Mr Elliott for four months, told the hearing in Hull that he drove the assistant to hospital in the early hours of the morning. He said the pair had drunk and smoked cannabis in the day leading up to fatal dose and the young man had snorted cocaine.
When Mr Elliott’s family asked Mr Fitzherbert why he did not call an ambulance, he said he did not realise what Mr Elliott had done, that he just looked pale and wanted to be taken to hospital. Mr Fitzherbert was also asked why he later called Mr De Lima to get him to tidy up the house. He said Hockney had not been well and he wanted to “shield him” from any “scandal involving drugs in his house”.
Hockney said that he was completely unaware of what the two men had been doing that day as he had been out creating landscape pictures with Mr De Lima. He said he had not seen Mr Elliott before he went to bed.
The artist said that he and Mr Fitzherbert lived separate lives even though his former partner had a large self-contained room at the house. Mr Hockney originally bought the house for his sister and mother, a long-term Bridlington resident until her death in 1999.
He now lives there with members of his inner circle Mr Fitzerherbert, Mr De Lima and Jonathan Wilkinson, who works in the art industry.
“I would say I’m close to all three of these people and trust them completely as I have known them for many years,” Hockney told the court.
He said Mr Elliott had helped him set up studios at his home and elsewhere. He added that Mr Elliott sometimes drank a lot and this gave him a “Jekyll and Hyde” character.
“I cannot comment on any of the lifestyle habits he has,” Hockney said, adding that he only knew him “professionally” and he did not “really know him in a social aspect”.
Some of Hockney’s recent work, inspired by the countryside around Bridlington, was celebrated at the Royal Academy of Arts last year with A Bigger Picture, an exhibition of his large-scale landscapes. They have become as acclaimed as his masterpieces from his time in the Hollywood Hills.
The inquest continues.