ONLY a year after she started painting again in earnest, a young Brora artist has had her work accepted for a major exhibition celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali.
A print of 25-year-old Lola Nicol’s evocative, black and white painting is currently on display at an exhibition in London marking the boxer’s 70th birthday.
The show, "In the Ring with Muhammad Ali," was launched last month by Ali’s brother, Rahaman Ali, and is being held in the Smokehouse Gallery which overlooks the Olympic Stadium.
Lola, who specialises in painting celebrities using acrylic on wood, says: "Muhammad Ali appearing at the Olympic Games opening ceremony made it it a thousand times more important and special to me to be involved in such a big event."
West Lothian-born Lola shone at art in school, gaining a Higher and Advanced Higher in the subject but "shyness" prevented her from taking her art studies further and instead she took an office job in Glasgow.
"I was really self-conscious at school and quite nervous and shy so the thought of going on to university scared me to death," she recalls.
It took a move to Sutherland for her to rediscover her desire to paint.
Her parents Robin, a retired nurse, and Margaret, a horse masseuse, relocated from Glasgow to Seaview, the Doll, Brora, in April last year and Lola followed them three months later.
"I just decided that I fancied a change and it is too busy for me in Glasgow," she explains.
The family are no strangers to the county. Lola’s grandfather, or "Pop" as she affectionately calls him, is Sandy Baikie, a longtime Embo resident. An uncle and his family also live in Sutherland.
Lola worked for six months with the Citizens Advice Bureau in Golspie but then decided to try her hand at painting commercially with support from Business Gateway.
"I wasn’t really planning on making a career out of painting but I had time on my hands so thought I would take it up as a hobby again and it grew from there," she says.
She decided to paint on the first thing she could get her hands on – left over wood from reclaimed desks that were lying around her home.
One of Lola’s first subjects was American singer songwriter Lana del Rey whose old Hollywood-style beauty she admires.
Posting her work on Facebook, she was astounded to be contacted by the star herself who said how much she liked the paintings.
"Most of the stuff I work on is to do with celebrities," she says. "My paintings started off as abstract but are now more lifelike. Everything I paint is acrylic on wood."
Her painting of Muhammad Ali was originally a commission for a customer but Lola decided to submit a print of it when she read about the exhibition to mark his birthday.
She sent the show’s creative director, Christina Jansen, a London-based photographer, a photo of the painting, merely hoping for some feedback from her about it.
But Christina liked the painting so much that she included the piece in the exhibition, which has taken two years to organise.
"I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t believe it!" says Lola. "Here I am sitting in my room in Brora, painting away and my work is being shown at a major exhibition in London."
The event spans different stages of Ali’s life, not just his sporting life but also his humanitarian work throughout the decades.
There are 70 photos and paintings alongside video and audio installations, poetry and memorabilia.
Ali’s brother flew from America to officially open the exhibition, which will run until 30th September.
For more information about Lola’s work visit her website www.lolanicol.com