Barely 30 years old, this Oklahoma artist leads a double life as a rodeo cowboy and artist.
On his way to a rodeo up north, where he’s been for a few months training horses and competing as a roper in the International Professional Rodeo Association and some PRCAs, Bradley Chance Hays discusses his double life as a rodeo cowboy and artist. “I can’t say one’s any more important than the other, because it takes all of it to make a piece of art,” he says. “Taking an hour before I go to a meeting to exercise my horse and watch the sun come up in the morning has always been just as important as picking up my paintbrush to make the painting.”
Hays’ hybrid life was almost destined. Born in Oklahoma to an art teacher mother and a rodeo cowboy father, he took to roping and competed in rodeos throughout his childhood, but art was intrinsic. “I wanted to be a cowboy and an artist. I can remember I wanted to have a good horse, and I wanted to make Western paintings.” Hays took those dreams to higher education — first at Oklahoma Panhandle State University to compete in college rodeo, and then to Oklahoma State University to finish his degree in art. Later he received a master of fine arts at West Texas A&M University.
While Hays loves traditional Western works, his own artistic direction has gone a more contemporary route. “As I grew as an artist,” he says, “I started to realize I needed to take Western art to a younger generation of people.” To do that, he uses five media: pastels, watercolors, acrylics, pencil, and oils. The result is something that might be called expressionistic, but it’s undeniably Old West at its heart.
Just turning 30, Hays has begun putting more time and energy into the business side of his art career, arranging exhibitions of his work to coincide with some of the biggest upcoming rodeos, including the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, the International Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, and in 2016, the Calgary Stampede. But even as he’s thinking about new paintings he wants to do, he’s also contemplating which horse he’ll ride at his next competition.
It all feeds his creativity. Being around the Western way of life not only helps him clear his head if he hits a roadblock in his art, it allows for authenticity: Hays just has to go outside the back door of his Oklahoma home to study his equine subjects and find inspiration in his surroundings. Whatever he comes up with, it’s bound to honor the cowboys, wildlife, and Native Americans he grew up around.
Love of the Western lifestyle, not the money he stands to make, is what motivates Hays, which is why he doesn’t do prints of his pieces and has turned down corporate offers. “It’s not all about making millions of dollars as an artist,” he says. “It’s about making something that you feel is sacred, that represents where you’re from, and that’s important.”
Whether he’s training horses or putting an idea on canvas, it’s all personal. “If someone buys a horse that I trained to rope on, I’m not selling something I bought and traded. I made that horse. When someone buys one of my paintings, I thought about something, and I made the painting.”
If there’s a formula for making his double life succeed, it’s about showing up and putting in the work — in the saddle or at the easel. “[You have to] be unique, have a product that other people aren’t making, and work hard at it every day. That goes for my paintings and my horses, too.”
From the January 2016 issue. See the artist's work at Vail Fine Art Uncrated in Edwards, Colorado, and at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino December 3 – 15, 2015, during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.