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Bradley Chance Hays (who also goes by Chance) knows he’s succeeded in doing what he’s meant to do in life when he sees someone smile and appreciate his artwork. “Bringing joy to people through art, that’s my business. That’s my gift, and I feel like if I died today, that’s what I would leave,” he tells us. We had the extraordinary opportunity to recently speak with Hays, a talented Western artist who’s also an accomplished roper. Read on to find out more about this exceptional, one-of-a-kind cowboy who has been able to build his career around his two passions in life, art and rodeo.
Hays’ interest in art began when he was about 12 years old. He was introduced to drawing and painting by his mother who was a high school art teacher and won a nation-wide contest for writing and illustrating his own book entitled Dragonfly. Encouraged by his success, he decided to pursue his love of art seriously. Around the same time, his father, who was a rodeo cowboy, started cultivating Hays’ interest in Western culture. He worked on a ranch, learned to ride horses, raised hunting and cow dogs under his grandfather’s guidance, and made fond memories travelling to rodeos in his dad’s pickup truck. Deeply inspired by both of these strong influences in his childhood, Hays found a way to combine his two passions by using his artistic talents to capture his experience of the Western way of life.
Today, Hays travels across North America to different rodeos in places like New York, Alberta, Oklahoma, and Florida to paint and show his art while also competing in the event’s roping category. Although Hays says that he ropes only as much as he can in order to focus on his artwork, his competitive track record is impressive. In the past 6 years, he has qualified for 6 different PRCA Circuits in the North American region. Hays also won the prestigious Montana Circuit Finals Average this year in Great Falls, Montana, an accomplishment that holds a special significance for him as it is the home of the C.M. Russell Museum, a museum dedicated to the work of the famous nineteenth-century Western artist, Charles Marion Russell.
According to Hays, Western art’s style hasn’t changed significantly since the days of Charles Russell. Heavily influenced by the work of Russell and of Frederic Remington, another celebrated nineteenth-century painter of the American West, the genre has remained faithful to the approach and colour palette used by these two legendary art figures a hundred years ago. While Hays appreciates traditional Western art, he feels that the genre needs to free itself from the established conventions in order to appeal to today's audiences. “For Western art to survive, [it has] to evolve a little bit,” he says.
Hays believes that Contemporary Western art’s future lies in the use of unexpected colours and new techniques to capture movement and emotion. As a source of inspiration, he cites dynamic New York painter LeRoy Neiman, whose impressionistic style conveyed the energy and excitement of sports events on a whole new level. Like Neiman, Hays’ work features surprising shades, like bright pastels, and his expressionistic brushstrokes work to beautifully capture the actions and emotions of his Western subjects.
Horses are one of Hays’ favorite subjects to paint. To him, these majestic creatures symbolize freedom. He explains to us that while a horse can bring you to your knees with its power, it can also allow you to experience one of the greatest feelings in the world when you're able to ride with it in harmony. “I’m trying to portray my passion for these animals through art, how I create it, paint it, and draw it,” he explains. “I hope that people look at it and say, ‘Man, this guy, he does know horses.’ I don’t want to be painting something hypocritically and not really know my subject matter. I really try to live around it and know it.”
Hays' authentic Western lifestyle makes him unique as an artist. “Individuality is defined by the path that we take, by how we create, and how we live at the same time,” he explains. “I’m a real cowboy with real cow dogs and real horses that I’ve raised, and that’s what makes the difference. I’m not borrowing a horse at the rodeo. I raised that horse. If I’m working on a painting and I ever want to know what something looks like, it’s right out front.” He’s found that his knowledge and life experience as a rodeo cowboy inform his artistic perspective and make it distinct. “My view on things comes from an emotional standpoint because I’m also a contestant,” he says. “Those lows of losing and those highs of winning, they’ll definitely play a part in your colours, how you feel, and how you draw.”
Towards the end of our conversation, Hays reminds us of a very important fact about art: It’s personal. “When somebody buys a piece of art, they are buying a part of that [artist]. You can take that to the bank,” he assures us. This couldn’t be more true than for Hays who, by staying authentic to himself and to his roots, beautifully combines his two life passions in every piece he produces.