Visual artist Christopher Fabor Muhammad began drawing when he was four, joining an artistically inclined older brother at the kitchen table in Paterson. His brother eventually turned away from art, but Chris worked hard to develop his talent and won several art competitions in grammar school. The neighborhood in which he grew up was plagued by poverty and crime, but the streets held no allure for him.

“My family wouldn’t have that, and I had greater ambitions,” Muhammad says.

He attended the city’s Rosa L. Parks High School for Fine and Performing Arts, excelling at academics and sports, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Today Muhammad, 41, is an art teacher at Paterson’s School No. 5, and heads his own company, Creative Force, Inc., which runs arts programs for schools and nonprofits.

After graduating from college, Muhammad planned to become an architect, but a stint as a substitute teacher awakened a passion for educating young people.

“I fell in love with teaching. I found I had a greater passion to help people, than build buildings,” he says. “What I try to show young people is that they can do something with their talent. It’s a gift from God, the Creator. I try to inspire them.”

Muhammad first began exhibiting his work in 2000. His goal is to break out of the local arts scene, “into other communities, other states, other nations,” and he’s developed a keen interest in cartoon art.

A retrospective of his paintings—realistic and abstract, in pastels, watercolor and acrylics—is on display at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. The exhibit is one of a series of Black History Month events sponsored by the state bar association’s Minorities in the Profession Section.