Niels Hamel studied Fine Art and Monumental Art (wall paintings, mosaics, etc.) at art academies in Holland and Belgium. He graduated from the Rijksacademie (National Academy of Art) in Amsterdam in 1955 and continued his studies with a grant from the Belgian government at the Higher Institute of Fine Arts in Antwerp until 1957.
In the decade between 1955 and 1965, under the influence of German and Flemish expressionism, his style gradually developed into abstract expressionism. His canvases (often large in size) attracted a broad public in the worlds of both art and theater, notably due to their intense coloration and strong composition.
During this period he employed the same colorful visual idiom in wall paintings, mosaics and reliefs which he made on commission from municipal and national institutes. They provided a fascinating contrast with the primarily cool, businesslike architecture of government buildings.
The sixties also saw the creation of his first designs for theater: abstract expressionistic decors for Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi and the plays of Bertold Brecht. Propelled by events occurring in a major cities in 1968, his art increasingly expressed itself outside the studio in the form of land art and in his designs for architectural surroundings such as gardens and parking areas.
In 1970 he left for the United States, to stay there for several years. In New York he worked as a visual designer with La Mama, the famous avant-garde theater company that set the trend in those years. In his theater experiments he investigated the latest techniques in light, sound and visuals in order to achieve the most intense visual experience possible.
Back in the Netherlands, Hamel embarked upon a period of close collaboration with the newly-founded theater group De Appel. For over 20 years, Hamel worked as designer and visual director in collaboration with the company's director Erik Vos on a great number of productions. His exceedingly visual approach to drama contributed to the creation of a theatrical form that focused greater attention on spatial and visual aspects than simply on the text in itself. This approach, in conjunction with a lively, physical acting style, rapidly made De Appel into one of the most important theater companies in the country. The Hamel-Vos duo also attracted recognition internationally. They were invited on many occasions to stage large-scale productions in Germany and the United States.
During all this time, Hamel continue to paint and to work on monumental spatial projects, such as the design of party centers, including several in Romania after the fall of the dictatorship there. But despite all his activities outside the studio, the need to work independently on autonomous artworks proved so strong that Hamel retreated to his studio for increasingly longer periods.
At first he continued to work on small-scale theater productions which he directed and designed himself, but soon he gave this up also, in order to devote himself completely to his paintings – which despite his other activities fortunately have continued to be very well received. After a period of figuration, his painting style has returned to strongly abstracted forms. Landscapes and animals are frequently used themes, and he still feels most at home with large canvases.
Niels Hamel's work is represented in the collections of the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam; the Netherlands Theater Institute (stage and costume designs); the Fine Arts Foundation and private collections in the Netherlands and abroad.
For nine years in the 1980s, Hamel was a guest teacher at the art academies Artibus in Utrecht and the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. From '93 to '97 he was Artistic Director of the Master of Arts in Scenography program, an international collaborative effort between art schools in various countries headed up by St. Martin's College of Art in London and the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) in the Netherlands.