You probably know Matt Kish as the great illustrator of rebooted Tin House versions of classics like Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness. Kish is a self-taught artist and a university-taught librarian. He lives in Ohio with his wife, their frog and far too many books.
Here, Matt Kish talks about habitual snacking, hating vegetables, and the simple joys of a PB&J.
On the way the light looks during a perfect meal:
These days, the best meal of the day is a late dinner with my wife on an unpleasantly hot (to most, not to me) summer evening with the long rays of the red and setting sun slanting through the windows. We’re home from our jobs, we’ve presumably taken care of whatever mundane duties needed attending to, and even though the day is rapidly dying our time is our own. There’s a tension and an other-worldliness to those summer sunsets, and the way those low rays, almost parallel to the ground hit the walls of the apartment buildings around us paints them in a flat, two dimensional, bloody light that makes it all look more like scenery than reality.
On his all-time favorite meal:
The house I grew up in was in one of those Midwestern suburbs that contained sporadic enclaves of heavily wooded areas, neither parkland or true forest. Our backyard was bordered by one of these woodlands, and my father used to half-jokingly call it “the jungle” because it was relatively dense. Throughout my adolescence, these woods retained an air of true and sincere magic, and I spent every available moment making paths and inroads through the trees and undergrowth, regardless of the season.
For some time, my mother was a stay-at-home mom before eventually returning to the workforce as a nurse. While we weren’t poor, we didn’t have a great deal of money and it was only when I became an adult and started doing my own grocery shopping that I realized much of what my mother prepared for us was driven primarily by economic concerns and less by nutrition and creativity. None of which matters because as a kid, lunchtime was divine.
I can’t remember when I had my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I ate one for lunch almost every single day from what I am guessing was pre-school through high school graduation. These were always lovingly prepared by my mother with Jif crunchy peanut butter and Smucker’s grape jelly on some kind of soft wheat bread served with a glass of chocolate milk and a side of nacho cheese Doritos. This was especially delicious on cold autumn weekend afternoons when I would be called into lunch by a barely-heard yell from the back porch and I would tramp in, generally a little dirty and often with grass or leaf stains somewhere on my clothing.
The contrast between the chill of those grey autumn days in northern Ohio and the warmth of our linoleum tiled kitchen, the ravenous hunger in my gut from hours of digging and running and peering through “the jungle” and the joy of biting into that sandwich and washing it down with chocolate milk, and my mother busying herself in the kitchen while the tiny black and white television on the dishwasher steadily mumbled and her cigarette smoke drifted up to the top of the refrigerator are maybe the best memories I have in life that don’t include my wife. So for me, it was never a single all-time favorite meal, but a constant refrain throughout my early life that remains a touch point for me. To this day, I never refuse a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s the best thing there is.
On not snacking while making:
Making art, especially art on paper, requires a pretty specific level of cleanliness and control over the environment. While at times the random intrusion of crumbs, grease stains and condiment-stained fingers could add an interesting element of unpredictability to the art, I am too obsessed with control to play with those kinds of risks. I generally don’t even drink anything while making art, other than the occasional glass of bourbon during a short break, because the glass can sweat and drip and there is nothing worse for a drawing on paper than the unwanted molestation of pooled condensation.
On his go-to late-night snack:
I am an inveterate snacker, much to the chagrin of my waistline. That was a lot easier to manage when I was in my twenties, but now that I am just into the second half of my forties the cruelties of age and genetics have forced me to take a different approach. Growing up and living most of my life in the suburbs of the Midwest, I’ve been depressingly free of interesting cuisine. Out here, it really is usually Hostess Cupcakes, beef jerky and bottles of soda from the corner store or the gas station more often than is good for any human being. It’s not a food desert, but it is a culinary landscape dominated by junk food and national restaurant chains of dubious gastronomic quality. I’ve had my fill of that and I hope to stick around for a few more decades, so I leave the Mountain Dew and the Chocodiles and the Swiss Cake Rolls on the gas station shelf and generally content myself with a small package of Mott’s Medleys fruit snacks and a small glass of water. It does just enough to take the edge off of the hunger and keeps me just a tiny bit freer of toxins and saturated fat than my old standbys would.
On his hatred of vegetables:
I remain an eternal child in terms of eating in that I despise vegetables. All of them. I have not voluntarily eaten a vegetable in thirty years and I don’t plan on changing that any time soon. I’ve eaten them, certainly, and probably plenty of them but I’ve always been tricked into it or the vegetable matter was such an integral part of the dish that I had no choice. To this day, no matter how they are prepared, vegetables make me think of eating grass clippings from a newly mowed lawn and that repulses me.
On his last meal request:
Whenever I think about this, I usually imagine some awful scenario where I’m on death row and headed to the electric chair or something preposterous, terrifying and melodramatic like that. I guess that’s because I tend to think about death a lot, and usually it’s not too pleasant. I imagine that, like most people, I’ll either die suddenly and in terrible pain, like in an accident or a murder, or that I will slowly waste away with no dignity as the victim of some gruesome but predictable disease like cancer. Neither of those offers much room for a celebratory last meal, so the movies and stories all barge in and force me to connect “last meal” with “death row.”
All that being said, given a choice, my last meal would be a variation on my favorite meal…a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made from Jif crunchy peanut butter and Smucker’s grape jelly, a glass of very chocolaty chocolate milk, a side of Doritos and a pack of Swiss Cake Rolls. I’m not sure what that says about me. Stuck in adolescence? Emotionally stunted? Hopelessly nostalgic? Obsessed with junk food? Maybe a little bit of all of those things. Still, that’s the last meal that would really make me smile. Oh, and while the whole last meal would ideally be surrounded by loved ones and family, since this little vision of mine usually takes place in some dour death row setting I imagine it would probably just be some kind but stern Tom-Hanks-like prison guard and maybe a prison chaplain. It’s a pretty bittersweet vision really.