Music, poetry, and painting were the passions that captivated Daniel Stacey Rice. A native of Long Beach, California, young Dan loved baseball and the trumpet, which he practiced four hours a day. He became sufficiently proficient that when the big bands (Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw) needed additional musicians for appearances in Los Angeles, Rice filled in. He took classes at the University of California, Los Angeles, before joining the United States Navy at age nineteen, serving on experimental battleships, and served two years in the Pacific, from 1944 to 1946.

Once discharged, and using the GI Bill, Rice attended the University of California, Berkeley, undecided about what his focus might be. He even toyed with the idea of studying music at the Juilliard School in New York. Instead, he went to Black Mountain College in Western North Carolina, where he immersed himself in the multi-disciplinary atmosphere, guided by Josef Albers in art, John Cage in music, Robert Creeley in poetry, and Merce Cunningham in dance. He overlapped with the painters Willem deKooning, Elaine de Kooning, and Robert Motherwell. Becoming involved in the Light Sound Movement spearheaded by Elizabeth (Betty) Jennerhahn and Pete Jennerjahn, he frequently provided illustrations for the college’s publications. Later in his career, in 1965, he collaborated with Creeley on the book, All That is Lovely in Men, and he provided colorful paintings for the covers of several other books. 

Rice pursued a master’s degree in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and afterward returned to Black Mountain. In 1951, when the college was suffering financial troubles, he proposed building a tobacco barn in order to raise a cash crop. Joining the faculty alongside Motherwell, Joseph Fiore, and Franz Kline, Rice taught painting to Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, among others over the course of several years. With the demise of the college in 1957, Rice and Fiore went off to Sausalito for a time. Eventually Rice gravitated to New York and became associated with the abstract expressionist painters who gathered at the infamous Cedar Tavern, finding work assisting them by building stretchers and mixing paint. In 1963 he served as a consultant to the estate of Franz Kline and then in 1969–1970 he catalogued the paintings of Mark Rothko.

Rice’s painting style had much in common with the abstract expressionists—large scale, bold brushwork, and of course abstract—but he balked at having that label applied to him. He declared: “Painting, or any other art form, is not about self-expression. This idea, which has spread somehow, is simply not true. And Abstract Expressionism itself is often thought of as some wild expression of the self, of emotion. This, again, is completely untrue. The last thing a painter thinks of is himself. Painting is truly a means of expressing the ineffable.” 

Sometime in the mid-1960s, Rice moved to Madison, on the coast of Connecticut.  Soon he returned to the classroom, first at the Art Students League, 1968–1969, followed by an appointment as a visiting professor for the summer of 1970 at State University of New York at Buffalo. The following year he became instructor of life drawing at the University of Connecticut. He also had teaching stints at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Amherst College in Massachusetts, and at the Guilford Handcraft Center (now the Guilford Art Center) in Connecticut. In 1993 he started giving lessons in his studio overlooking a salt marsh to a small group called “The Friday Night Players.”

In his obituary in the Hartford Courant, he is quoted as saying, “Everything is secondary [to art].”