Ardern's Obama poster sparking debate

Ben McKay
A Obama-style portrait of Jacinda Ardern has set tongues wagging and sparked an electoral review

It started with a painting of Jacinda Ardern and has ended up in an Electoral Commission investigation.

But the makers of a pop art image taking New Zealand by storm say they have no regrets and are raking in the cash.

Mike Weston and Otis Frizzell, Auckland artists operating as Weston Frizzell, are long-time supporters of the New Zealand Labour party.

They made art in the wake of last year's horrific Christchurch mosque shootings, and wanted to follow up with an image of their beloved prime minister

"It was extraordinary, her response. We thought we better do a portrait," Mr Weston told AAP.

Their creation is similar stylistically to the iconic Barack Obama 'Hope' poster, but with Ms Ardern's face and the word 'Aroha', the Maori word for 'Love'.

The original painting sold for $NZ19,500 ($A18,250) to a Tauranga woman, giving them the spark to mass-market a print.

"Coming out of lockdown we wanted to kick off our business with some energy," Mr Weston said.

"We put art up on the streets and then people want it buy it. That's how it works."

And so Weston Frizzell put up dozens of the designs, outside dairies in Auckland, on Wellington's Lambton Quay, and further abroad.

Orders have been flooding in.

"Oh yeah, we're making money. We're in business. We're not charitable. We're not working for the Labour party," he said.

"We feel good about it. I think she feels pretty good about it too. I'm sure she's seen it.

"We haven't had any complaints."

While Weston Frizzell hasn't received complaints, New Zealand's electoral watchdog has.

An Electoral Commission spokeswoman confirmed to AAP they were looking into the matter after feedback from the public.

The prominent posters have also sparked a public barney.

The conservative-leaning Taxpayers Union claim the posters "clearly fit under the law's definition of advertisements, in that they are likely to persuade someone to vote for a given candidate or party", according to spokesman Jordan Williams.

Free Speech Coalition spokesman Dane Giraud disagrees, saying the posters "continue a long tradition of artistic political expression".

For her part, Ms Ardern is a little sheepish.

"Oh, you know, people are free to plaster posters and I wouldn't generally take a view on people using their ability to express themselves and so I won't do that in this case either," she said.

"Ultimately someone else is going to make a decision on (whether they are legal) and it's not going to be me."

The situation is complicated by the arrival of the September 19 poll, less than three months away, and the beginning of the regulated election period.

While Mr Weston said he'd taken a call from Electoral Commission's lawyers, he didn't expect it to progress any further.

"We are perfectly entitled, according to our advice, to put our art up on the street and no body can do anything about it at all," he said.

"It's freedom of expression. It's Bill of Rights protected.

"Previously we've donated images to the Labour party for fundraising. Those had the appropriate authorisation tags on the image.

"In this image, its not that and its not the intention.

"We haven't had any conversations with Labour about whether they want to run it and I don't know if they do."