Alice Toomer has found her artistic groove by capturing some of New Zealand’s favourite lollies and desserts on canvas
Working from her sunny studio nestled in Wellington’s coastal suburb of Island Bay, Alice Toomer brings confectionery to life on canvas. Her work is painstakingly intricate, the results nothing short of sugar-coated, photorealistic illusions. The young painter says she is “compelled by the impermanence of food, so I choose to immortalise it in my own way, with paint.”
Her most recent creation, Double Scoop Chocolate, took four separate photo shoots to get the final shot – and Alice admits she consumed “a shocking” amount of melted chocolate ice cream in the process. “I love the depth and the summery aura that the warm, natural sunlight provides. The texture of ice cream is difficult to paint, so I’m proud of how it came to life,” she says.
Alongside painting, Alice works as a director of photography on local music videos and short films, which she says helps her to approach her photo shoots with greater intention. While confectionery and desserts have been her focus so far, the young creative says she is eager to delve deeper into the traditional still-life genre and explore a wider range of culinary areas and subjects. “I’m in a really exciting phase of exploration at the moment, where I’m challenging myself to take more technical and creative risks to evolve my style. It feels like my works are maturing alongside me.”
When did you start painting?
I have been drawn to all things creative from a young age. After winning the genetic lottery and inheriting my dad’s [acclaimed Otago landscape painter John Toomer] artistic eye, I have continued to improve with his guidance and keen interest in my craft. I started selling my works when I was a 12-year-old at my high school’s art exhibition. My Andy Warhol-inspired painting of some takeaway coffee cups sold on the opening night, and I gained a number of commissions that haven’t really slowed down since.
Your work looks good enough to eat! What drew you to the subject matter of confectionery and desserts?
Food has always captivated me as a comfort for the soul, so it felt natural to explore it deeper through my art. Blending my hyperreal influences with iconic Kiwi foods and brands, I tapped into a bit of a niche area of art here in Aotearoa. It was exciting to bring decadent flavours to life and offer people
a scrumptious sensory experience, all within a New Zealand context. Documenting foods before they change or disappear can evoke a strong sense of nostalgia – especially with lolly packaging where designs and products are constantly evolving.
What’s something you wish people knew about hyperrealism?
Something often overlooked is the number of hours and thousands of intentional brush strokes that go into these paintings. Hyperrealism is often sidelined in the art scene or deemed pointless, as a camera can create a similar product. But to me, art is another way of seeing – it’s a way to make the most mundane objects feel unique and extraordinary. Hyperrealism is about utilising certain tools to evoke visceral feelings and vivid memories.
Historically still life, particularly food, has such a rich internal struggle, often swaying between themes of fruitful abundance and inevitable decay. Where do you think your paintings fit within that context?
My works strive to capture that moment in time right before eating – a beautiful yet fleeting experience. The subject of confectionery and iconic foods embraces the timeless abundance aspect of still life — however, a lot of my paintings incorporate brands and logos, so that inevitable decay is still present within a social lens. There may come a day when every lolly I’ve painted is discontinued, and my paintings will become a window into the past. I am increasingly drawn to the concept of decay in still life, and it feels like the natural next step in my exploration of the genre.
How long does it take you to complete a piece?
It takes me around 40 hours to paint most of my works. For more detailed paintings it can take me upwards of 60 hours. I also spend a bit of time in both the planning and distribution stages, so it would be fair to say it takes an average of three to four weeks to develop a painting from conception to completion.
What does your process look like?
I begin by setting up a photo shoot with my chosen subject, playing with different compositions, backdrops and lighting set-ups. Then I pick the best image, print it off to scale, and trace it onto the work surface to record accurate details and proportions. With my photo reference, I begin painting. Using acrylics, I first block in the background and then move onto the subject in small sections.
At this stage I tend to focus on the intricate details rather than the bigger picture. I aim to replicate
the photograph’s tones and textures by building up layers of mid-tones, shadows and highlights –
working my way around the piece until it is complete. To finish, I add a few coats of varnish to protect
the paint and enhance the rich colours. The painting is now ready to be framed, hung and cherished by its new owners and/or gallery-goers.
How did you start out building a career as a painter?
I kept involved with my regional art community and exhibited in various shows and galleries within Otago, which helped me gain exposure. Because I began painting at such a young age, it became a part-time job alongside my studies. My knowledge of business has grown over the years, especially in terms of branding and marketing myself through social media.
What’s next for you? What pieces are you dreaming up for the future?
Recently I’ve found myself more inspired by my surroundings than the confectionery aisle of the supermarket. I am keen to build a series of works in this moodier style to encapsulate the evocative nature of food. Through grittier textures and tones, I want to acknowledge indulgence, opulence, and consumerist behaviours surrounding food and food waste. In addition to depicting the food itself, I wish to explore dining as a complex social and cultural pillar of our existence.
How can people follow and purchase your gorgeous work?
At alicetoomer.com. I display selected paintings, list print releases for sale as they become available, and exhibit my cinematography work. I also have a joint website with my dad John, toomerart.com, where our past and current works can be viewed and purchased.
Words by Caroline Moratti. Photography by Anna Briggs.