Reinvention is ageless artist's passion

It all began in the mid-1950s when Markoff was set to throw out an old toilet at Freeway Appliance but paused over the tank float. He and Betty had just been to the ballet, and it struck him that the float was pleated like the skirt of a ballerina.

"I cut it in half, I bent some screen and some wire, and I had it," Markoff said.

OK, but I could bend some metal too, and it wouldn't end up in a show. So how did Markoff get from machinist to artist?

"I always loved art," Markoff told me. "I can't always remember who did it, but I always liked it. If you're a machinist, you know what to do. I knew how to weld, and it all came together."

Markoff said he got a little better with each piece, but as a man of many curiosities, he was ready to move on to the next passion by the mid-1960s. So he stacked some of his scrap-metal creations on the shelves of his home, passed off the rest to family members and dived headlong into photography.

He wasn't half bad at that, either, traveling the world with Betty and friends and shooting black and whites of people and landscapes. Some of that photography is in the exhibit at the Red Pipe, and so are a couple of his paintings. Markoff is still putting brush to canvas in his home studio.

He had one misgiving about letting Huston show his work. He plans to leave all his art to his family when he dies, should that ever happen, and he felt badly about Huston taking the time to display work he doesn't want to be sold.

Huston said she was happy to stage an "exhibition-only" show, although, "I had some collectors in who were annoyed that nothing was for sale."

If you'd like to catch the exhibit and meet Markoff, he'll be feted at a reception Wednesday evening from 5 to 8 p.m. at Red Pipe (978 Chung King Road). The exhibit will be on again Saturday from noon to 8 p.m., when all the Chung King galleries celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Huston told me that after watching artists and others react favorably to the show, she's backing off the 100-year-old angle.

"People are reacting to the art," she said, and not the age of the artist.

Markoff himself had something to say about that.

"Please, ease up on this 100 business," he said Tuesday in an email. "I am trying to pass as 90."


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