A Wanganui artist says he did not breach copyright by reproducing a photo of a convicted murderer.

Mark Rayner's hand-hooked woollen carpet portrait of Helen Milner, called Black Widow, was a finalist in this year's Wallace Art Awards.

Questions have been raised over whether the image was copied from a photograph taken by a New Zealand Herald photographer during Milner's trial. Milner was found guilty of murdering her second husband in December.

Yesterday, Mr Rayner described his widely-acclaimed work as a "reworking of a well-circulated media image".

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"The source material has been manipulated, colour-changed and cropped and then re-interpreted as a large latch-hook rug," he told the Chronicle. "The artwork is in an obviously different medium with the intention of eliciting a completely different response from the viewer."

Mr Rayner said it was "impossible" for him to not be inspired by other images.

"Often I use my own photographs as reference but when sculpting clay figures or painting images on to ceramic plates it's usually necessary to use other photographs for reference.

"And sometimes inspiration even comes from other artworks - in a previous work I used a detail of Munch's The Scream and reworked it in rug wool using a completely different colour palette to the original. Though the finished work was clearly based on The Scream, there was no way it could be considered a copy."

Last week New Zealand Herald editor-in-chief Tim Murphy said he expected artists using the newspaper's work to ask for permission and consult on what they intended to use the work for.

"The photographer who captures an image such as this is a professional who deserves recognition - that should not be converted by an artist without reference to us," Mr Murphy said.

Mr Rayner said he had not personally been threatened with legal action.

However, the work has also been criticised by the family of Philip Nisbet, the husband she was convicted of murdering in May 2009.

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