As a young girl in Hong Kong, artist Laishan Mui Ito got into a bad bus accident before an important piano recital. After over a month in the hospital, she wasn’t able to practice. But the date was already booked and her teacher told her she had to attend, even if it meant showing up at the grand recital hall underprepared and dressed in a hospital gown.
“The kids are all preppy, and they’re staring at me, like, what is this girl doing?” Mui Ito told the Courier. “That kind of stuck with me…I did pass, but I didn’t really feel like I owned it or did my best…I didn’t continue my piano lessons from there.”
Three decades later, Mui Ito spent three weeks in a large room on Canon Drive getting to know every nook, cranny, and crevice of the piano she painted for the Sing For Hope Pianos program, which now adds an explosive burst of color to the walkway in front of the Crescent Drive entrance to Beverly Hills City Hall.
Mui Ito said she had a “full-circle moment” after adorning her piano with a garden of succulent plants, which to her represent color, vitality, and resilience in a difficult time. She named the piano “Lola,” after the rosebud-shaped succulent variety that is her favorite.
Mui Ito has accomplished a lot since she last attempted to play. Born in Hong Kong, she moved to Los Angeles at age 11. She always knew that she loved art, but as she got older her parents pushed her toward a more stable career.
Mui Ito dutifully studied business administration at UC Riverside, but was uninspired. She began inching back towards her passion after seeing that the entomology department was looking for a part-time scientific illustrator. After years of meticulously drawing wasps, tiny crustaceans, and wingless female flies who wait on trees to be scooped up by winged males, her interest in art and nature were reignited.
Mui Ito later decided to parlay her new skills into graphic design, eventually working her way up to a Senior Graphic Designer at Nokia. After she had children, she began freelancing as a way to both further her career and spend time with her two children.
In 2018, Mui Ito became interested in public art after she saw an artist painting utility boxes, a growing trend around Los Angeles. She did a bit of research and found that the City of Glendale was commissioning a utility box project. After bringing her trademark succulent plants to Glendale boxes, Mui Ito painted oranges, lemons, and trains in Azusa; birds, roses, and strawberries in Sherman Oaks; and hands and hearts intertwined in Burbank, among many others.
“Every project has its own story and experience, and I really enjoy being able to share my work,” she said. “Cities are quite open, as long as it’s community friendly. I either get approval or I don’t, so it forces me to trust my gut.”
Earlier this year, the Sing for Hope Pianos program emailed Mui Ito to inform her of an open call for local artists to paint pianos in Beverly Hills. Mui Ito proposed a garden of succulent plants, which she said helped her through the pandemic.
“I love the colors, the variety, and how resilient they are,” she said. “I have a little garden at home, and it really helped me think and gave me a break from the stress of COVID. I hope that whoever is playing feels like they’re in a succulent garden, and it will take their mind of whatever their worries and stresses are and enjoy music.”