Two students explore their art outside of SMC

It’s a very big step when someone realizes there is something missing from their life and then decides to work to fill in those gaps. For artists especially, those gaps can be a fierce inhibitor to someone’s necessary expression of self. That search is a common theme amongst artists at Santa Monica College. “It’s one thing to play guitar and sing because you like it and it’s a hobby, and it’s another thing to learn actually what’s going on,” says Zul Lkhagrasuren, a musician of the Mongolian rock band Return, who is taking music theory classes at SMC.

Lkhagrasuren and Kyle Welker have both been on and off students at SMC, picking through the classes that they think will best serve their goals; Lkhagrasuren as a musician, and Welker as an installation artist. Their stories are just an example of the types of soul searching that is happening on campus.

Lkhagrasuren is the rhythm guitarist and singer for his band, Return, which plays mostly originals but also has revamped some traditional Mongolian songs for their Mongolian fan base. It’s rooted in rock, with ambient tangents, reggae tints, and influenced by bands such as the Japanese group Mono, Chili Peppers, Dream Theatre, and Queen.

Lkhagrasuren came to the United States from Mongolia when he was 15, eventually moving to Los Angeles in 2009. He started playing the drums, picked up guitar, and even tried piano for a bit. He officially formed Return over a year ago with friends from the LA Mongolian Christian Church that they attend.

A self-described “ear player,” Lkhagrasuren recognized that there was more to learn to further himself and his band. “I know this goes to that, but now I figure out why,” he said.

The Mongolian musician has ESL and other basic classes still to complete, which to him, are important in that they are required to transfer to a school where he can focus on his music.

Welker got his Bachelor's degree from the Art Institute of Colorado in photography, which was a commercial program. Not long after moving to LA and working as a commercial photographer, Welker realized that wasn’t for him, and came to the conclusion that he was more interested in fine arts.

“I felt like I didn’t have the skills that a fine artists would need, so I started taking classes to pick up on what I didn’t get in my first college," he said.

He came to SMC to work on his drawing and painting, but uses those as tools in what he has now become drawn to; installations. Welker prefers to find rural abandoned places, and transform them using found items from the surrounding desert. He has a current favorite site in the Mojave Desert about two hours outside of LA.

“When we were little, [my family] would drive up roads and every time there was a gold mine or shack we would have to stop and look at it," he said.

Welker likes the idea that others might stumble upon his pieces as well. Once left behind, they change with the weather, or interactions that animals or other people have with it.

He will be returning to Colorado for the summer, and had plans for a few installations while he is there. He thinks he has found what he needed through the classes and experiences he has had at SMC and will likely not return in the fall.

Return will be playing at the Playtime Festival in Gachuurt Village in Mongolia at the end of July, among 40 other bands from Mongolia, Russia, Japan, and more. They will also have their first album out before then. Lkhagrasuren plans to take more ESL classes over the summer at Los Angeles Community College because it’s closer to his home, return to SMC for music, and eventually transfer out.