Cowboy artist Chance Hays comes by his talents honestly—his father was a professional bulldogger and tie-down roper and his mother was an art teacher. However, the original perspective and incredible drive he applies to pursuing his dual passions of art and rodeo is entirely his own.
Hays, 31, grew up in a small town in southwest Kansas. From an early age, he was equally devoted to both art and cowboying, spending just as much time with a rope in his hand as a pencil and paintbrush. He pursued his interests into college and graduate school, competing in college rodeo for Panhandle State University and Oklahoma State while picking up a handful of degrees, eventually earning his master of fine arts from West Texas A&M University.
Breaking into the professional art world and actively rodeoing are difficult endeavors by themselves, but to do both at the same time, as a college student no less, requires a work ethic that eludes most 20-somethings.
“I worked my tail off!” Hays laughs. “Through college I worked by gathering winter wheat cattle and riding young horses. I tried every way I could to keep both my art career and my roping career going at the same time while completing my education.”
It was in college that Hays developed his distinctive style—using mixed media in a colorful, contemporary, expressionistic take on traditional cowboy subject matter. It’s a style Hays believes will appeal to a younger generation and to those who might not be receptive to the aesthetics of traditional Western art.
The unrealized Western art fan is exactly who Hays wants to see his work, which is why he travels to unconventional markets to promote his paintings. He explains, “I choose to go to New York and Pennsylvania and Florida and California because those are the audiences that don’t always have access to the cowboy West. I want to show them this way of life. I want to give them an in. I want to give the folks in New York a reason to think about cows, and cowboys, and Oklahoma.”
All the while, Hays continues to compete in tie-down roping, scheduling art shows to coincide with rodeos. In fact, during the interview for this article, he was hauling two trailers: one full of artwork and the other full of horses.
Between advancing his art career and tackling the rodeo road, Hays’s plate is certainly full, but his drive and dedication have paid off. He’s a four-time International Finals Rodeo qualifier, is represented by the Vail Fine Art Gallery, was the artist-in-residence at MGM Grand during the 2016 National Finals Rodeo, and is collaborating on a new clothing line with Wrangler.
His full-throttle approach is inspired by his philosophy on putting yourself out there, showing up to do the work, and staying true to yourself.
“If you don’t take the risk you won’t know what you’re capable of,” he says. “If you don’t saddle that horse, you’re never going to set an arena record. If you don’t buy that canvas and brush, you’ll never get an art gallery show. Not trying has a guaranteed outcome.
“I make sure everything that I have my hands on represents what I stand for. From the rope I use to the horses I train to the art I create—it all reflects me and where I come from.”