The fine line between pleasure and pain has long been documented in art across hundreds of years. From Shunga (a type of Japanese erotic art) right down to the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the tradition of subversive erotica carries through – and now, that includes Deej Amago. “Erotica has always been a part of my works and it was somehow a pivotal moment for me when I embraced it back in 2016,” the Filipino artist tells It’s Nice That. “College was a transformative period in my life, as I tried to discover myself not only as a queer man but also as an artist.” The years of self exploration, centred around sexuality and desire, spurred Deej to find a sense of liberation. That outlet turned out to be queer erotica. “Having been able to do queer erotic art somehow makes me feel free,” Deej says. “But, it also served as a reminder that, being a part of the lgbtqia+ community, I am not entirely free."
The delicate line art and water colouring of Deej’s work moves the erotica into a gentle, tender territory. Shades of red swell on the canvas while other colours are muted, or nearly reduced entirely. “Many people who have seen my artwork say that it resembles Japanese art,” Deej remarks. “Although I am flattered by this comparison, as I am also a fan of the simplicity and intricate details of Japanese art, I did not consciously aim to create Japanese-style art.” In fact, Deej’s fascination with the line art form came from his focus on drawing anatomy repeatedly in his free time.
These days, Deej will often craft a piece out of a sketch on the iPad (marked by periods of “procrastination and self-doubt”), which is then transferred to paper and coloured with watercolours, pencil and graphite for detailing. “But the process can change depending on the complexity of the piece,” he says.
Overall, while Deej’s works are explicit in their content, he hopes that it doesn’t “pervert” his audience. “I want them to understand that my art reflects the queerness inside and outside myself and there’s nothing wrong with showing vulnerability with another person and to long for something intimate,” Deej explains. “Because I really believe that these qualities or actions are the most human things a person could possibly feel.” For Deej, his work doesn’t tap in to intense sexual desire so much as it taps in to longing and vulnerability, or even the calmness that comes in pain. “Being vulnerable means opening up yourself to possibilities, and possibilities don’t mean all the good things in the universe; there could be bad things that you will experience as well, and that’s okay,” he says. “It’s a package.”
Deej Amago: Tahi (Copyright © Deej Amago, 2023)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.