The bag of Mei Fang Tan

It has been a while since I have spoken to someone for this series. March seems like ages ago. And as you may have noticed, everything has changed since. I can’t deny there has been a shift of perspective on my end, having taken the time to really look at the surroundings I always took for granted.

Being an introvert, staying home was a walk in the park. Except the parks were closed and the streets were empty. The last few weeks though, I have been in the park on a daily basis, treating the kids to ice-cream and some social interaction.

The same interaction I had with Mei Fang Tan, whom I met in that exact same park two summers ago. Her children Filippa (4) and Juno (2) are roughly the same age as mine and we all got along really well. I’ve watched her develop from a modest woman, working in healthcare, to a thriving illustration artist, whose work is in high demand, and I cannot be more proud.

We meet on a warm summer-day at her home in Amsterdam-West, where she situated the garden chairs for social distancing. While the kids play in the grass, hunting for snails and other crawling creatures, we talk about her art, her home and life in general. “I think art is too much of a word because I work really fast. I don’t want to degrade my own work but it is an insecurity I have, to call myself an artist.”, she replies when I ask her how she would like me to address her in this story. “This is just what I do. I think a lot of artists struggle with that question.”, she continues.

Her paintings, tactile and colourful, often depict the impression of a moon in various stages, much like the illustration work she makes in commission, but on a larger, bolder scale. The walls of the kitchen and living room are lined with some of them, others are wrapped to be sent to their new owners along the walls of the night blue hallway.

Mei Fang and her family of four moved into this home on the outskirts of the city about a year ago. After a solid make-over led by Fang herself and her husband Robbert, an architect, it has become one of those homes you see on Instagram, leaving you to imagine living there. Every detail has been well thought of, the choice of paint on the walls bringing a lot of warmth in the most modern way. But today there are toys everywhere, the blue velvet Ligne Roset Togo-couch is turned upside down for our boys to use it as a slide.

In the garden, which is well in bloom, is an inflatable pool filled with lukewarm water and plastic animals. Despite the aesthetics, this house feels welcoming and is definitely designed to be lived in. An organised chaos, with Fang as a centrepiece.

“I never have one bag, I have a thousand bags. But I’m not really a bag-person. Almost all of them are totes I got for free somewhere. They’re practical and I can just throw them on the ground anywhere without worrying it’ll get stained of muddy. I recently got a “real” bag, but it sits in a cupboard somewhere. I don’t dare using it.”, she answers when I ask her what is her go-to bag.

“Before I leave the house, I always count to four: One is my phone, two is my wallet, three are my keys and four is a diaper and wipes. Oh actually it’s 5. Sunglasses are essential, even in wintertime. I’m so happy I don’t have to carry around all this babystuff anymore.”, she continues.

We walk through the house, which is also used as a canvas to show how her paintings look on a wall, and she lifts a crate from a shelf in he hallway, filled with totes in all sizes. Her current favourite is a large plaid one. “This one is large enough to fit the artworks I sold, so I can bring them to the postoffice.”, she explains. I look at the array of large scale works in the hallway. “Not those”, she chuckles. “For those I’ll need a truck.”

Unlike for most of us, staying home due to COVID19 meant extra work for Fang. Looks like I’m not the only one who has taken the time to look at her surroundings.

“The mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” - Mary Wollstonecraft