Macomb Township artist brings vacuum-assisted art to ArtPrize

By: Dean Vaglia | Macomb Chronicle | Published September 8, 2023

 Amanda Koss uses two vacuum robots: “Betty,” left, and one that is unnamed. The robots contributed to the creation of several art pieces that will be on display at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids from Sept. 14 to Oct. 1.

Amanda Koss uses two vacuum robots: “Betty,” left, and one that is unnamed. The robots contributed to the creation of several art pieces that will be on display at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids from Sept. 14 to Oct. 1.

Photo provided by Amanda Koss


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — When Amanda Koss paints, many of the tools and supplies she uses are what anyone would use. But among her acrylic paints and brushes and canvases, Koss has discovered a new tool to work with — vacuum cleaner robots.

Koss, an abstract expressionist artist from Macomb Township, has begun using two previously discarded vacuum cleaning robots to help create a series of paintings.

“I like to use found objects in my art, no matter where I am in my life, and the initial robot was a found object,” Koss said. “It was in the trash and I had my son pick it up. We cleaned it up and I just thought ‘Well, let’s see what it does on a canvas.’”

Koss begins by attaching tools such as paintbrushes and spray paint cans to the robots before letting it drive across the canvas and spread the paint around. Once the robots have finished roaming, Koss steps in to finish the painting by filling in the remaining gaps. The end result is canvases covered in an erratic collection of circles, lines and streaks.

While Koss is no stranger to building her own brushes and utilizing secondhand objects in her art, the robots present unique challenges to work with.

“It’s actually really quite difficult because they don’t listen,” Koss said. “Betty (the white robot) has issues. She likes to go off the canvas or get stuck or just doesn’t really listen. They splatter everywhere, but I feel like the nuances are part of the process. I usually end up quite covered in paint in my legs because of all the splatter they do.”

Aside from the novelty of painting with vacuum robots, Koss’ series of paintings comes at a time where many creatives find themselves competing against tools using artificial intelligence.

“It’s a big discussion between artists and collectors about the importance and significance of AI art, whether it’s worth it and opinions and stuff like that,” Koss said. “It kind of embodies an element of AI, but there’s still a human perspective in it because I still have to operate and control the robot.  … It’s not 100% robot-created, which still gives the essence of the AI factor, but at the same time you’re still getting me.”

Koss has been working in art for nearly a decade now, but her route into the field did not begin on the best terms. She always wanted to be an artist and studied graphic design in high school and college, but her mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2015 practically drove her into creating art.

“The prognosis did not look good,” Koss said. “It was stage four breast cancer, and I could not just sit there any longer just watching TV or being in my own misery over what I couldn’t control.”

Koss began researching art techniques and experimenting with different kinds of paint, eventually settling on acrylics. She did not want to use acrylic paints since they are so commonly used and predictable, but allergies made epoxy and oil-based paints unusable.

“I learned that even though it’s predictable, I can create my own manifestations and pieces that don’t have to be predictable,” Koss said.

She later received her own cancer diagnosis and found the work of creating art to be helpful.

“I learned that painting is an expressive way out, a healing way for me to get past all of the hardships in my life and grow as a person, as a mom, as a wife, as a human,” Koss said.

Koss’ husband supported her through the process, encouraging her to curate art shows and to get a studio.

Now three years into remission, Koss is taking her vacuum-aided art to the ArtPrize international art festival in Grand Rapids, running from Sept. 14 to Oct. 1. It will be Koss’ second appearance at the festival, and she will be there with her art on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Blue Cross Blue Shield on Monroe Center Street.

Outside of the vacuum art, Koss has a show at the Color|Ink Studio in Hazel Park called “Conversations With Myself” focused around a series of monochromatic paintings. She also operates art rotation programs for Crain Communications and Amazon’s Detroit office.