“Utterly gross and disgusting” may be one’s first reaction to the collection of drawings in John Cuneo’s nEuROTIC. These “sketchbook drawings” entail a wide collection of fantastical acts and distortions that rotate around sex. This doesn’t mean that his drawings consist of reproduced sexual acts teetering on the line of pornography or erotica. Instead, Cuneo uses the body in particularly sexual ways to present ironic and sardonic perspectives on simple life events. nEuROTIC could very well make a reader laugh, cry, and regurgitate—all in the same read.
The cover of nEuROTIC may mislead readers into thinking this book is a simple book of nude sketches by the author. Judging this book by its cover would be to seriously undermine the amazing and provocative content. With just under a hundred pages, this small book contains dozens of mostly colored sketches that belie a certain morbidity and fascination of the thin line between eroticism and perversion.
Many of his sketches include implications of pain along with sex. While it is easy to assign the labels of perversion or masochistic tendencies to Cuneo, it proves more worthwhile to consider the embedded messages of his drawings. His work can cause readers to think about the pain we willfully inflict upon ourselves in our nearly endless pursuit of sex. Other images critically take aim at the rituals of partnering off and mating. Of course, while much meaning can be determined from merely looking at each picture, it’s the title for each that adds a whole new dimension of insight and hilarity to the entire collection. Titles such as “Paul, Pursued By the Avenging Angel of Erectile Dysfunction,” “Castrating Divas of the Serengeti (Coming This Fall on NBC),” and “Auto-Erotic Asphyxiation for Dummies” evoke smiles in and of themselves, but when attached to Cuneo’s work, things go to an entire new level of stimulating debauchery.
There are certainly some drawbacks to this collection. First and foremost is that it is way too short, and readers will fly through this book rather quickly. Granted, this encourages repeated readings of the book, thereby allowing readers to discover the more subtle aspects of Cuneo’s work. The other interesting but regretful point of this book is the lack of any words by Cuneo or others. Other than brief words in an “Acknowledgements/Blame” page, a quote from Philip Guston, and the titles for the sketches, no other personal comments from Cuneo can be found. Maybe it’s because Cuneo wants his audience to devise their own meaning and bring their own influence to bear on the book rather than be told what to expect or how to read it, but after finishing the book, readers will yearn to hear Cuneo’s thoughts.
Beyond a doubt, some will find nEuROTIC disturbing and even pornographic. At face value, they may rightfully claim that Cuneo’s work is obscene. If one takes the time to read into his work, however, it is possible to discover much more interesting commentary that is certainly worth the closer examination. In this regard, Cuneo is challenging, cunning, and very talented.